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FCC Fines Comcast for Violating NBC Merger Condition
Hid Standalone Broadband Option From Consumers
by Karl Bode 06:02PM Wednesday Jun 27 2012
The FCC today announced that Comcast violated conditions attached to their acquisition of NBC Universal, and will have to pay a $800,000 fine. Specifically, the merger condition in question required that Comcast offer "a reasonably priced broadband option to consumers who do not receive their cable service from the company." According to a statement issued by the the agency, the FCC acted after they were informed the company made the option hard to find and sign up for.

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As part of the settlement, Comcast must offer standalone service of at least 6 mbps at a price no greater than $49.95 for three years. The agency also required that Comcast avoid raising the price of that tier for at least one year -- and that they "visibly offer and actively market" the standalone option.

While it's nice that the FCC is actually enforcing a merger condition (they have a long history of just ignoring violations of conditions they didn't like), $50 for 6 Mbps service isn't exactly a revolutionary bargain, and Comcast makes $800,000 in about the amount of time it took to write this sentence. Still, this is the first time the FCC has ever required that anyone extend a condition -- so the gesture is bold in the larger (and quite pathetic) context.

"Today’s action demonstrates that compliance with Commission orders is not optional," said FCC boss Julius Genachowski in a statement. "The remedies announced today will benefit consumers and foster competition, including from online video and satellite providers, by ensuring that standalone broadband is truly available in Comcast’s service areas."

Comcast has taken heat for another merger requirement: that they provide discount $10 broadband to low-income residents for three years. Low income advocacy groups have complained the offer is hard to find, hard to sign up for, and comes with numerous restrictions designed intentionally to rule out most of the applicants. The FCC did approve of Comcast's behavior in that instance, and used the idea as a template for other mergers, including Centurylink's recent acquisition of Savvis.

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