The former Saturday Night Live cast member doesn’t joke around when it comes to his feelings about Comcast, and the power it has gained since it took control of NBCUniversal in early 2011. Today Franken — a frequent Comcast critic — charged that the FCC takes too long to respond when consumers and companies accuse the cable giant with improperly thwarting competition. Several complaints “have languished before the Commission for extended period of time,” he said in a letter to the regulatory agency and the Justice Department’s Antitrust unit. If that continues, “it will only incentivize Comcast” to drag out future policy disputes and “dissuade other companies from seeking relief before the Commission.” The Minnesota Democrat noted that it took 10 months for the FCC to act on Bloomberg’s complaint that its business news channel, which competes with CNBC, was given a much higher channel number making it hard to find on Comcast’s systems. “I hope the delay in this instance was an anomaly.” Franken writes. He adds that a start up online movie and TV streaming service, Project Concord, says that Comcast is dragging its feet in providing programming — even though the federally approved merger agreement with NBCU bars Comcast from discriminating against competitors. If the FCC doesn’t step in, Franken says, “it will send a message to Comcast that it may set unreasonable requirements” on potential challengers. He also asks commissioners to examine Comcast’s broadband policies. For example, Comcast subscribers who use an Xbox 360 game console in place of a set top box can receive unlimited Xfinity on demand programming — it’s transmitted as part of the cable video service — while broadband rivals such as Netflix are subject to data usage caps. Sony has said that the caps have made it reconsider its plan to launch an Internet TV service. The senator says these issues should weigh on the FCC and Justice Department as they consider Comcast’s plan to sell wireless spectrum to Verizon as the companies, which often compete, begin to cross-market each other’s services. If the agencies impose conditions on media mergers then “the public needs to be assured” that they’re being monitored.
Comcast says that Franken’s wrong: It and NBCU are “fully complying with (indeed exceeding) the transaction orders” from last year’s merger. In the Bloomberg case it believes that FCC commissioners “will agree on appeal to enforce conditions as they were originally negotiated and intended.” And Comcast’s On Demand service is “indisputably” a cable service — not an Internet one — and therefore “not subject to the FCC’s Open Internet Rules.”