The entertainment industry has changed dramatically over the past few years.
The biggest changes are not necessarily to the type of entertainment produced (although that is different), but how the product is delivered to consumers. The Internet and cable have dramatically altered how we watch movies and television programs, listen to music and play video games.
While almost all of this entertainment content comes from private, non-profit businesses, the federal government does have a role in making sure consumers have reasonable access to this content.
This is why the Federal Communications Commission can - and should - continue to have oversight over the combining of media companies that might trample on the flow of information.
Unfortunately, the FCC shirked its responsibility in giving Comcast, the nation's largest cable company, the go ahead to purchase controlling interest in NBC Universal, which owns the NBC television network.
The FCC voted 4 to 1 to allow Comcast to have a 51 percent stake in the media giant that is currently owned by General Electric Co. Comcast is reported to be buying majority ownership for $13.8 billion in cash and assets.
However, the FCC did impose some conditions aimed at forcing Comcast to make NBC programming available to other cable and broadcast providers.
Those conditions were apparently enough for the Justice Department to sign off on the merger. The Justice Department declared that the deal did not violate U.S. antitrust laws.
"Under the proposed settlement and the FCC order, the joint venture must make available to online video distributors (OVDs) the same package of broadcast and cable channels that it sells to traditional video programming distributors," the Justice Department declared in its statement. "In addition, the joint venture must offer an OVD broadcast, cable and film content that is similar to, or better than, the content the distributor receives from any of the joint venture's programming peers."
That's all fine in theory, but the folks who run Comcast are sharp enough to find a way around these conditions if they choose. And they may opt to go in that direction for a huge financial gain. Billions of dollars are at stake.
Federal officials are deluding themselves if they believe a few stern-sounding sentences are going to keep Comcast (or any other cable or provider of Internet access) in line now or in five or 10 years.
Allowing this takeover is a mistake.
It opens the door to abuse by Comcast and worse, it sets a precedent that could be abused by other giant companies to restrict access to programing and information.