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NBC joins in asking that conditions be set on AOL-Time Warner merger

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NEW YORK (AP) — NBC is joining ABC's parent company Walt Disney Co. in expressing concerns to federal regulators that the merger of America Online and media giant Time Warner could result in an unfair concentration of power.

NBC, which is owned by General Electric Co., filed a document with the Federal Communications Commission Monday asking them to impose a "meaningful, enforceable commitment" from AOL Time Warner that it would not discriminate against other programmers seeking access to its cable systems.

In its filing, NBC said the combined AOL Time Warner would "have both the economic incentive and the ability to secure substantial competitive advantage by discriminating against unaffiliated content providers in . . . both interactive television and the Internet."

NBC's general counsel, Richard Cotton, said in an interview that the network went to the FCC after failing to negotiate an agreement with Time Warner over provisions to ensure fair treatment for NBC's programming in next-generation television systems.

NBC and Disney fear that the combined company could use Time Warner's large cable networks and AOL's online services to favor movies, TV shows, music and other content made by its own content providers, such as Warner Brothers, CNN and HBO.

Time Warner spokesman Ed Adler said the companies had already addressed these issues in its filings and discussions with regulators. He also repeated the companies' promise to maintain open access to other content providers.

"Our commitment to content diversity is crystal clear and couldn't be stronger," Adler said. "We are committed to providing consumers a broad array of the best content available, regardless of who produces it."

Earlier this month Disney asked the FCC to consider requiring that Time Warner separate its ownership of media distribution and production properties, a proposal Time Warner chairman Gerald Levin dismissed as "silly."

On Tuesday Disney filed an 85-page document with the FCC detailing its reasons for opposing the merger and also proposing less stringent conditions similar to those being sought by NBC.

The filings from NBC and Disney come just ahead of a public hearing the FCC is holding Thursday in Washington on the combination. Consumer advocacy groups have also sent up warning flags, saying the merger would constrict competition among media outlets.

Disney has made tremendous political hay out of a bitter dispute that resulted in Time Warner temporarily pulling Disney's ABC network from cable systems in millions of homes in early May.

Disney called the move an example of brutal monopolistic behavior that could be repeated under the combined company. Time Warner has since apologized over the incident and promised it wouldn't take similar actions again.

Viacom Inc., owner of the third major television network, CBS, said it does not plan to file protests against the AOL Time Warner merger. Viacom spokeswoman Susan Duffy declined to comment further.