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Comcast Actions Attract Justice Department Inquiry

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Could actions by Comcast limit consumer choice and stunt the growth of the entire online video industry? That possibility has led the Justice Department to examine Comcast's bid to acquire NBC Universal from General Electric, and how that purchase could impact streaming media.

According to a report in the Wall Street Journal, the Justice Department's antitrust division has spent eight months reviewing the purchase and has opened the question of whether or not Comcast is trying to secure online broadcast rights to premium content in order to impede competition.

According to current rules, cable companies that own content need to make that content accessible to rivals under reasonable conditions. Those rules only apply to broadcast, however. Satellite television services Dish and DirecTV are using this opportunity to press for an expanded set of rules that will cover content distributed over the Internet.

The issue is whether or not Comcast locking up NBC Universal premium movie and television content would give it an unfair advantage online. Anyone familiar with the online video industry knows how fickle the audience is, and how important exclusives are.

Comcast's position is that it won't lock up NBC Universal premium content, and that the industry wouldn't be altered even if it did, since the streaming media world is too small to be competition to satellite and cable.

"Several impediments-technological, pricing related, and rights related-make it highly unlikely that online video will become a substitute" for multichannel cable and satellite companies "in the foreseeable future," Comcast wrote in an FCC filing.

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Mon., July 20, by Troy Dreier