Comcast’s legal win raises questions for education

Approval of the Comcast-NBC Universal deal could have a lasting impact on schools and colleges.

Educators and students could see new internet service options after the federal government on Jan. 18 gave Comcast Corp., the country’s largest cable company, the green light to take over NBC Universal, home of the NBC television network, in a deal that is likely to shake up the internet landscape.

Public-interest groups, meanwhile, hope consumers won’t see new restrictions on content distribution as a result of the deal.

Comcast is buying a 51-percent stake in NBC Universal from General Electric Co. for $13.8 billion in cash and assets. The deal raises many questions, however, as public-interest groups have expressed concerns about what will happen to accessibility when one of the county’s largest suppliers of broadband pipeline joins forces with one of its largest suppliers of content.

The Justice Department said it reached a settlement with Comcast and NBC Universal that allows the companies to proceed with the deal, subject to several conditions. These conditions will help ensure that the transaction cannot “chill the nascent competition posed by online competitors,” said Christine Varney, head of the Justice Department’s antitrust division.

Among these conditions are provisions that could increase the amount of children’s programming available and help subsidize broadband service in low-income communities.

Still, education officials, especially at small college campuses and K-12 districts without massive technology budgets, have tracked Comcast’s imposition of fees for online video after a Netflix partner raised concerns about the practice in November.

And while many school and campus technology officials have supported the FCC’s “net neutrality” plans, Comcast has stood in firm opposition to the federal regulations that would prohibit broadband internet providers from slowing access for some customers or to certain websites.

The five-member Federal Communications Commission voted 4-1 to approve the Comcast-NBC Universal deal. Michael Copps, one of the commission’s three Democrats and an opponent of media consolidation, voted against the transaction.

With the deal certain to transform the entertainment industry landscape, both the FCC and Justice Department are attaching conditions to prevent Comcast from trampling competitors once it takes control of NBC’s vast media empire.

"(Required)" indicates required fields