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DOJ Should Investigate Comcast-NBCU Over Alleged Antitrust, Lobbying Group Says

The American Cable Association sends a letter to the U.S. Department of Justice, calling for an antitrust probe.

A lobbying group that represents 700 smaller video and broadband providers across the country told the U.S. Department of Justice in a letter that Comcast and its NBCUniversal division were harming competition and an antitrust investigation is warranted.

The American Cable Association (ACA), in a letter sent to Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim dated Nov. 6, said that Comcast’s acquisition of NBCU was more harmful than AT&T’s $85 billion Time Warner merger, which was approved this past June.

The ACA said that the ability for Comcast to raise programming prices in local markets is unmatched. “Unlike Time Warner, Comcast-NBCU owns significant must-have local programming, including 11 local NBC television stations and seven NBC Regional Sports Networks,” the letter stated, “and unlike AT&T, Comcast is the dominant multichannel video programming distributor in many of these local markets with market shares above 60 percent.”

The letter also said that Comcast-NBCU offers “bundles of video/broadband/telephone throughout its entire footprint” whereas AT&T only offers complete bundle of services where the company has a wireline presence. That means Comcast can earn “significantly higher average profit margins on switching customers,” the letter states.

The group also said that Comcast-NBCU has “demonstrated a willingness to harm rivals even while being subject to DOJ and [Federal Communications Commission] conditions.”

In response to a report from Fox Business Network’s Charles Gasparino about the letter, President Donald Trump tweeted that the lobbying group is accusing Comcast of “routinely” violating antitrust laws. Trump did not, however, explicitly offer an opinion on how the DOJ should deal with Comcast.

Comcast said in response to the ACA letter that “video programming and distribution markets are incredibly competitive. New programmers and distribution platforms are offering consumers increasing choices on what and where to watch. At Comcast NBCUniversal, we are competing in this dynamic environment the way we always have—by continuing to innovate and conducting our business in compliance with antitrust laws and other legal requirements.”

Comcast also said that “among other things, Comcast Cable has brought Netflix and YouTube to our X1 platform. And NBCUniversal has provided content to Hulu, Netflix, and hundreds of other traditional and over-the-top providers. We believe that ACA’s letter is without merit and constitutes an inappropriate attempt to gain leverage in the commercial marketplace."

The ACA isn’t the only one concerned about Comcast and NBCU’s growing power. U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal wrote in a letter in December 2017 calling on the DOJ to open an investigation into Comcast’s alleged antitrust behavior. The timing of the letter was in response to the end of conditions imposed on Comcast by the DOJ after the agency approved the NBCU deal in 2011.

A DOJ spokesman declined to comment on the ACA’s letter.

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