Senator calls for Justice Department to investigate Comcast-NBC merger

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Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) is calling on the Justice Department to investigate whether the 2011 Comcast-NBC merger has hurt market competition.

Blumenthal sent a letter to the Trump administration’s top antitrust prosecutor, Makan Delrahim, on Wednesday, asking him to revisit the deal and to try to keep in place behavioral conditions that are set to expire next year.

“Given your responsibilities as head of the Antitrust Division to enforce our nation’s antitrust laws, it is incumbent on you to continue to ensure that Comcast’s acquisition of NBCU does not undermine free and fair competition,” Blumenthal wrote.

The Connecticut Democrat asked Delrahim to consider splitting up the two companies if he finds that their merger has dampened competition.

Last month, Delrahim sued AT&T and Time Warner to prevent those companies from carrying out a similar deal that’s worth $85 billion. Prosecutors argue that allowing a telecom giant like AT&T to take control of Time Warner’s entertainment holdings could stifle their competitors.

In the days before the lawsuit was filed, Delrahim criticized the previous administration’s decision to clear the Comcast-NBC merger with temporary conditions, arguing that such behavioral remedies are ineffective at constraining the anticompetitive effects of large mergers. One such behavioral condition was promising not to give NBCUniversal content favorable treatment.

In his letter, Blumenthal also emphasized that the Comcast deal should be revisited in light of the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) impending decision to repeal its net neutrality rules, which restrict internet providers like Comcast from favoring or discriminating against web content.

Sena Fitzmaurice, a Comcast spokeswoman, said that the company has abided by its agreement with regulators.

“There is no credible basis to pursue an extension or modification of the consent decree or conditions,” Fitzmaurice said in a statement. “For nearly seven years, Comcast has met or exceeded all of the commitments and obligations under the NBCUniversal transaction. We have filed six annual compliance reports with the FCC setting forth in detail our exemplary compliance track record, none of which has been challenged or objected to by the commission or any third parties, including by any member of Congress.”

She added that the Justice Department has not taken any enforcement action against the combined company since the merger cleared.

“There is simply no precedent and no need for the conditions to be extended or modified, or our transaction revisited,” she said.

The Justice Department did not immediately respond when asked for comment.

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