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OK urged for Comcast-NBC deal

SHARE OK urged for Comcast-NBC deal

NEW YORK — Comcast Corp.'s proposed takeover of General Electric Co.'s NBC Universal should be approved by U.S. regulators after setting requirements to avoid harming viewers, the chairman of a House panel on communications said.

The Federal Communications Commission and Justice Department should ensure consumers who aren't Comcast subscribers retain access to programming they received before the merger, Rep. Rick Boucher, D-Va., said in letters to the agencies released Monday by his office.

"I have some concerns about the potential for consumer harm," Boucher wrote to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski. He urged approval after requiring the companies to prevent a reduction in consumer choice and competition. Boucher sent a similar letter to Christine Varney, assistant attorney general for antitrust who is heading a review of the $28 billion deal.

The proposed takeover would give Comcast, the largest U.S. cable company, control of NBC's television network; broadcast stations in markets including New York, Los Angeles and Miami; cable channels such as USA Network and Bravo, and a library of more than 4,000 movies.

Comcast should keep sports programming such as professional football, baseball and golf available to an over-the-air audience after acquiring NBC, Boucher said in the letters. Boucher urged both agencies to act by Dec. 1.

NBC network programming offered for free online viewing shouldn't be moved to services solely for Comcast customers, Boucher said. Comcast shouldn't be allowed to demand exclusivity for online video programming, just as it may not keep other national programming to itself, he said.

Because he is a chairman of a House Energy and Commerce Committee panel, Boucher's opinion is closely followed. Members don't have a direct role in approving mergers, which are scrutinized by the agencies Congress oversees.

Philadelphia-based Comcast has pledged good-faith negotiations to carry NBC's competitors on its cable systems, and has promised not to shift major sporting events such as the Olympics and National Football League games to cable.

Opponents say Comcast-NBC will have an incentive to raise prices and withhold programs from rivals.

"If the merger is approved, Comcast will own one in five TV viewing hours; cable bills will rise; and consumers will have fewer choices in programming," said Josh Silver, president of the advocacy group Free Press, in a Web posting July 9.

Bloomberg LP, the parent company of Bloomberg News, has filed papers opposing the merger as it is currently proposed.