WASHINGTON, Dec. 14 - Warning that a huge media monopoly would drive up cable television prices and stifle the free flow of information, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) today urged the Department of Justice to block Comcast's planned takeover of NBC Universal.
The senator's concerns about the Comcast-NBC deal were detailed in a letter that he sent to Christine Varney, the assistant attorney general in charge of the antitrust division at the Department of Justice. "Especially in an age of entrenched corporate power," Sanders wrote, "it is easier to stop monopolistic forces before they start."
Sanders earlier this year asked the Federal Communications Commission to stop the deal on grounds that transferring NBC's broadcast license to the cable operator would not be in the public interest. To date, more than 2,300 people have raised objections to the deal in e-mails sent to the FCC using an online form on Sanders' Senate website.
In his separate letter to the Justice Department, Sanders argued that the proposed deal should be stopped to protect consumers of cable services and the interests of the public in the marketplace of ideas. "In ordinary markets, monopolies harm consumers by inflating prices," Sanders wrote to Varney. "In the market for media, monopolies not only harm consumers by increasing prices but also by restricting the free flow of ideas, thereby striking at the very foundation of our democratic society."
Sanders said a merger likely would lessen competition in the markets for video programming, traditional cable, and in the emerging market for online distribution of programs.
A merger would lessen competition in the market for video programming by giving the combined company a leg up on its competition. Comcast now carries some content produced by independent programmers, but would be able to charge independent producers higher fees and relegate rival programs to less desirable channel placements.
The merger also would harm competition in the market for traditional distribution through cable, satellite, and telephone lines because Comcast could increase prices or withhold access to competitors. William Rogerson, a former chief economist for the Federal Communication Commission, has calculated that the anticompetitive effects would cost consumers $2.4 billion.
In raising concerns about the impact on the emerging online content, Sanders noted that Comcast is not only the largest cable company in the United State but also the largest Internet delivery service. Comcast recently demonstrated its intent to dominate the online market when it demanded that a Netflix subsidiary pay exorbitant fees in order to reach Comcast Internet subscribers.
"Because this merger would lessen competition ... and because it would put our media landscape in grave danger, I urge you to deny approval," Sanders concluded in the letter to the government's antitrust chief.