Al Franken rips into FCC approval of Comcast-NBC merger

The Comcast-NBC Universal merger got an official green light today from the Federal Communications Commission, paving the way on a 4-1 vote for another major consolidation in the telecom industry.

It's a merger that Al Franken has battled from the get-go in the Senate, and he ripped into commissioners supporting the merger as corporate lackeys who've forgotten their responsibilities.

"The Commission is supposed to protect the public interest, not corporate interests," Franken said. "But what we see today is an effort by the FCC to appease the very companies it's charged with regulating. With approval of this merger, the FCC has given a single media conglomerate unprecedented control over the flow of information in America."

Statements from FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, and the lone dissenter, Democratic Commissioner Michael J. Copps, make clear how differently the two sides view the issue of media consolidation. Genachowski first:

After a thorough review, we have adopted strong and fair merger conditions to ensure this transaction serves the public interest.

The conditions include carefully considered steps to ensure that competition drives innovation in the emerging online video marketplace.

Our approval is also structured to spur broadband adoption among underserved communities; to increase broadband access to schools and libraries; and to increase news coverage, children's television, and Spanish-language programming.

I commend the excellent work of the FCC staff; this was an endeavor that involved almost every Bureau and Office. I also want to thank Assistant Attorney General Varney and her staff for their close collaboration throughout this review.

Copps's dissent is far lengthier. Some highlights:

It reaches into virtually every corner of our media and digital landscapes and will affect every citizen in the land. It is new media as well as old; it is news and information as well as sports and entertainment; it is distribution as well as content. And it confers too much power in one company's hands.

The Comcast-NBCU joint venture opens the door to the cable-ization of the open Internet. The potential for walled gardens, toll booths, content prioritization, access fees to reach end users, and a stake in the heart of independent content production is now very real.

As for the future of America's news and journalism, I see nothing in this deal to address the fundamental damage that has been inflicted by years of outrageous consolidation and newsroom cuts. Investigative journalism is not even a shell of its former self. All of this means it's more difficult for citizens to hold the powerful accountable.

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