Telecommunications giant Comcast may have violated US anti-trust laws, according to Senator Al Franken (D-MN) who wrote to the Justice Department on Tuesday asking they launch an investigation into the firm.
"On September 26, Comcast announced that, aside from naming Comcast's Chief Operating Officer, Steve Burke, as the prospective Chief Executive Officer of NBC Universal, 'There will be no additional announcements until the deal closing process and timing is certain,'" Franken wrote in his letter to the assistant attorney general for anti-trust, Christine A. Varney.
"Nevertheless, last Wednesday, Mr. Burke announced the 'members of the new NBC Universal senior management team,' to be effective upon closing of the merger," he added.
Franken, a former NBC employee and former Saturday Night Live cast member, argued that Burke's announcement may have jumped the gun, seeking to indirectly influence the management of the company, thereby violating "the spirit and letter of federal antitrust law."
"The Department of Justice and the Federal Communications Commission have yet to complete their review of the proposed Comcast and NBC Universal merger. And yet, by publicly announcing their intended managers of each component of NBC Universal, Comcast has effectively told employees at NBC Universal who their 'real bosses' are," Franken said.
Comcast and NBC Universal are in the process of merging. Comcast's purchase of a 51% stake in NBC-Universal would bring together one of America's largest media conglomerates and the nation's largest cable TV provider, creating a company worth over $30 billion. The cable provider said recently it hopes federal regulators approve the deal by year's end.
A cable industry trade group recently projected that the merger would "will send monthly cable bills higher by billions of dollars over the next decade."
Comcast is urging federal regulators to act before the end of this year. The FCC will meet one more time in 2010, next month.
"Unfortunately, these actions may also facilitate and encourage NBC Universal personnel to provide their prospective superiors with competitively sensitive information," Franken wrote.
Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders said that he promised to do what he can to stop the Comcast/NBC merger, noting that the CEO of the new company would be Steve Burke, one of former President Bush's top fundraisers.
"There already is far too much media concentration in this country. We need more diversity. We need more local ownership. We need more viewpoints. We do not need another media giant run by a Republican supporter of George W. Bush. That is the lesson we should learn from the Keith Olbermann suspension," Sanders said.
It's unclear if the move will be well recieved by Franken's fellow Senate Democrats. The office of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) announced last week that former Comcast executive Harry B. Krone, a longtime personal contributor to Reid's campaigns, had been given the job as the top Dem's chief of staff. Krone had previously served as Reid's deputy chief of staff.
Read Franken's full letter [pdf link].
With reporting by Stephen C. Webster.