Watchdog groups take aim at Comcast before hearing

WASHINGTON – Comcast’s critics launched broadsides Wednesday before the Senate Judiciary committee hearing on the company's merger even began.

Veria Living, which bills itself as an independent cable channel focusing on health and wellness, handed out a statement blasting Comcast for shutting it out – a move that the company charges violates the terms of Comcast’s 2011 merger with NBC-Universal.

“We’ve pursued Comcast on a regular basis, but their message has been plain, namely, that they will meet with us as many times as we like, but not give us a deal,” the company’s chief executive, Eric Sherman, wrote to senators in advance of the hearing. “Comcast’s manner of compliance with the fCC NBC Universal consent decree raises doubts about the company’s commitment to supporting truly independent, creative, entrepreneurial networks.

I wrote about Comcast’s compliance Monday – the company says it has met 149 out of 150 conditions without incident, though critics have accused them of fighting and even twisting the rules they agreed to live by when the company acquired NBCU.

Meanwhile, a coalition of watchdog groups said 400,000 people have signed a petition opposing the merger.

“Comcast has unleashed an army of lobbyists in Washington to win approval of this deal,” said Craig Aaron, of the media watchdog group Free Press. “But the cable giant can’t fool the American people, who are tired of sky-high prices, lousy customer service and too few companies controlling what they can watch or download. Combining the two largest cable companies would be anti-competitive, anti-consumer and just plain bad for America.”

The petition was put forward by groups including Common Cause, Consumers Union, Daily Kos, Free Press and others.

Previous posts on the hearing can be found here.

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