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Policy Watch: Fired Up Over NBC, Net Neutrality

It may be hard to tell, but there are other things going on in Washington these days beyond the perpetual scrutiny being applied to the proposed union of Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) and NBC Universal . (See Comcast CEO: We Won’t Block Rivals.)

This rendition of Policy Watch does toss in a few more nuggets on that big deal, but we've also got some other updates to share on the network neutrality and must-carry fronts.

  • Al Franken (D-Minn.) let his old NBC bosses have it yesterday, taking shots at Jeff Zucker and setting aside a few more punches for Comcast chief Brian Roberts during yesterday afternoon's Senate antitrust hearing.

    Franken, whose claim to fame is partly linked to his time as a regular at NBC's long-running Saturday Night Live back in the day, isn't convinced that Comcast and NBC will live up to all the commitments they've voluntarily attached to the deal.

    "You’ll have to excuse me if I don’t trust these promises, and that is from experience in this business," Franken said, later accusing NBC of a "routine practice" of demanding at least partial ownership of the shows it airs.

  • Michael Fiorile, chairman of NBC's affiliate board of directors, is urging Congress to put strong conditions on the deal to preserve the interest of broadcast affiliates. His big fear is that Comcast might "gradually migrate some or all of its most compelling sports, news, and entertainment programming and talent away from free, over-the-air distribution on NBC to its newly owned cable channels." Comcast, however, has already said it wouldn't alter NBC's current broadcast model.

  • The American Cable Association (ACA) isn't particularly thrilled about the possible implications the Comcast-NBCU deal might have on smaller MSOs, but it's also got a bone to pick with new rules that are governing the next round of broadband stimulus funding. (See ACA Blasts Broadband Stimulus Grant Rules.)

    The ACA claims that the modified structuring would tilt things in favor of rural phone and satellite companies, making it even harder for its MSO members to receive funding for last-mile broadband projects. Among specific complaints, the ACA says $100 million in grants are already set aside for satellite broadband projects, and there's a preference for historic borrowers, which tend to be of the telco variety.

    The ACA is springing to action after 80 of its members applied for funding in the early going, but only one was granted. (See Recovery Act: Cable Shortchanged.)

  • President Obama is a proponent of network neutrality, but only to a point, evidently. Based on a question he took on YouTube Inc. this week, it sounds as if he may be open to allowing ISPs to offer special tiers -- a provision that may end up gracing a new set of Internet rules the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is working on. (See FCC Sets Sail on Internet Rulemaking .)

    Specifically, he acknowledged that the White House is "getting pushback" from some bigger carriers on the subject. Here's the clip of what he had to say about it:

  • Cablevision Systems Corp. (NYSE: CVC), ever the cable industry maverick, has formally asked the Supreme Court to review existing must-carry rules pertaining to local stations. Cablevision thinks a review of the old rules is in order because cable faces vibrant competition from satellite TV and telco TV operators, so MSOs are no longer monopolies and shouldn't be seen as potential content bottlenecks.

    — Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News

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