Some of the conditions attached by the FCC to the Comcast/NBC Universal merger should be raising serious concerns, and need a lot more attention/discussion than they are getting.
Comcast will make available to approximately 2.5 million low income households: (i) high-speed Internet access service for less than $10 per month; (ii) personal computers, netbooks, or other computer equipment at a purchase price below $150″ and “we require Comcast-NBCU to increase programming diversity by expanding its over the-air programming to the Spanish language-speaking community, and by making NBCU’s Spanish-language broadcast programming available via Comcast’s on demand and online platforms.”
Providing subsidized $10/month broadband Internet access to low-income households…or not..is a decision that should be made by legislative action. It represents in effect a tax on all existing Comcast customers for the benefit of the identified groups. For the FCC to take such an action absent explicit legislative authorization seems like regulatory overreach, to put it mildly.
Even more important, there are issues of speech control here. It is no secret that NBCU programming has a generally leftist slant. Actions that broaden the distribution of this programming–which will surely be accomplished both via the additional Spanish-language programming and via the subsidized Internet access, which will assist Comcast in selling non-Internet services to the same households–will benefit the Democratic Party and the leftist movement in general. (Of course, once Comcast takes control of NBCU it has the ability to change the programming and will hopefully reduce the leftist slant, but large organizations have substantial inertia, particularly in industries as inbred and prone to herd thinking as the media field.) The precedent is not a good one.