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FOX Power Play Casts Shadow on NBCU/Comcast Merger

Hulu, the popular online content-streaming service, was recently the battleground for a Fox ISP-blocking scheme that cut off content to Cablevision subscribers. Though access was reinstated a few hours later, the act illustrated Fox's and other content provider's ability to easily limit access to their content on the web.

The show of force was a poignant move that again raised questions about the impact of a merger between NBCU and Comcast, currently being examined by the FCC. With an even larger share of the market, the issue could replicate itself on a much larger scale, were the merger to go through without limitations on this kind of behavior.

CWA and consumer groups have raised concerns about a merger that would unfairly advantage an entity that controlled both content and its means of transmission. Gigi B. Sohn, president and co-founder of the public interest group Public Knowledge, brought responsibility into the equation:

"We need to remember that the government's policy is that consumers should have access to lawful content online, and that policy should not be disrupted by a programming dispute."

As cable companies adopt the "TV Everywhere" model, they are requiring consumers to show that they are cable subscribers in order to watch content online. This model harms the development of online video in which consumers — not the cable company — get to choose what video they are able to view. A cable company that controls lots of video content has even more power to shape what and how consumers can view video online. Therefore, the FCC and Department of Justice must protect consumer rights to choice in online video in the context of their review of the Comcast-NBCU transaction.

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