How Comcast sealed the deal

Here’s an interesting article about how Comcast wooed Mignon Clyburn, daughter of powerful Congressman Jim Clyburn, to get that all-important final vote for their merger with NBC.

Comcast really needed her vote, and knew it. That’s because the two pro-business Republican commissioners, Robert M. McDowell and Meredith Attwell Baker, would likely vote for the merger. And so would Julius Genachowski, the Democratic chairman of the FCC.

But a 3-2 vote, with Clyburn and the fifth FCC commissioner, Democrat Michael J. Copps, voting “no,” would not display bipartisan support and would be politically awkward for Genachowski.

Comcast bosses, say industry sources, made this parsing early, and began to court Clyburn.

One issue important to her was diversity.

Months before a final vote, Comcast reached agreements with Asian, Hispanic, and African American civil rights groups, agreeing to create high-level diversity councils at the company, add a Hispanic director on the Comcast board, and expand minority hiring.

Comcast did not stop there. It agreed it would add cable channels either owned by minorities or that targeted minority audiences, to its cable system, with 23 million subscribers.

In the final days of the review, Comcast conceded to a last-minute request by Clyburn to add protections for small cable operators that said Comcast would force them to pay high programming costs for NBCU content.

The wooing paid off. The final FCC vote was 4-1, with only Copps – steadfastly opposed all along – saying no.

Clyburn said in a statement Friday that she initially viewed the Comcast-NBCU transaction “with some skepticism.”

“But after countless hours of review, I concluded that the companies went a long way toward addressing each and every one of my concerns,” Clyburn said. She said she was convinced “that Comcast was sincere about ensuring that this merger would be in the public interest.”

I remember that progressives were really concerned about her appointment to the commission; she had a less-than-impressive resume, and her father has an anti-net neutrality track record. The telecoms, on the other hand, were thrilled, with one praising her “insightful and pragmatic perspective.” (Which of course gives liberals that warm and fuzzy feeling!)

As it turned out, she did side with at least the concept of net neutrality, voting for the watered-down rules approved in December.