Will The FCC Hold Public Hearings on Comcast/NBC?

In the last few years, the Federal Communications Commission has held local public hearings on media ownership, localism, broadband expansion, Net Neutrality, and more. Now, we are facing one of the largest media mergers our country has ever seen; will the FCC hit the road to hear local people’s concerns about it?

This week, we sent a letter to the FCC asking them to do just that.

As part of Comcast’s takeover of NBC, the cable giant hopes to get its hands on a number of valuable NBC and Telemundo broadcast stations in local communities. But those airwaves belong to the public, so Comcast has to ask the FCC for permission to transfer the broadcasting license from one company to the other.

Eleven of these local stations are located in communities where Comcast is already the dominant cable and residential Internet provider. If Comcast gets its way, it’ll control the news and entertainment those communities can watch, and how they can watch it – on cable, online and over the airwaves. That’s a media monopoly none of us can afford.

I have been talking with local people in these local communities across the country, and they are deeply concerned about Comcast’s big media power grab. We are calling on the FCC to meet face-to-face with the public in these communities where the merged company could dominate the local broadcasting and cable markets.

The question now is will the FCC listen to the public or push them to the side? Initial feedback to the letter doesn’t look promising. Industry publication Multichannel reports that, “The groups, comprising Free Press, Media Access Project, Consumers Union and Consumer Federation of America, essentially take plans for such hearings for granted, though the commission has almost never scheduled such hearings according to an FCC spokesman, who points out that it usually collects public input on mergers through written comments and reply comments.”

Is that true? Are public hearings really too much to ask? It wasn’t in the past. The FCC has scheduled and held field hearings in the past before major transactions, including the mergers between AOL/Time Warner, AT&T/Media One, MCI WorldCom/Sprint, SBC/Ameritech, Bell Atlantic/GTE and AT&T/Tele-Communications Inc. This is in addition to the nearly twenty other public hearings and workshops they have held since 2007. Indeed, this FCC has repeatedly expressed its commitment to greater transparency and public outreach.

We know Comcast doesn’t like public hearings. When the FCC was investigating Comcast’s Internet blocking in 2007, Comcast paid people to fill the seats of a Boston hearing to keep the public out. They event instructed people when to clap and cheer. They fessed up to the meddling afterwards, but the damage was done. Comcast clearly wants to stifle the public’s voice.

But Comcast isn’t stopping us from demanding that the FCC hear from the public about one of the biggest media mergers in history. Thousands of Americans have told the FCC online that they have concerns about this merger, but there is nothing like hearing from people face-to-face, on their own turf, and seeing the impact of media consolidation first hand.

You can read our letter to the FCC.

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