Comcast-NBCU may be subject to arbitration

There's one more thing looming for Comcast (Nasdaq: CMCSA) before it can safely spend $30 billion or so to bring NBC Universal into its fold. It seems likely that the feds (in this case the FCC and the Justice Department) will add an arbitration requirement to the deal.

Multiple sources have said arbitration is "clearly an issue that the commission and Justice Department are looking at" as a way to resolve potential disputes over programming costs and control of that programming, especially as it relates to the Internet.  The Comcast deal has come under fire from, among others, the American Cable Association, which claims it poses a threat to smaller cable operators who would end up paying more for programming than larger operators with deeper pockets and more subscribers around whom to spread the cost.

Arbitration is not a new idea. News Corp. (Nasdaq: NWSA) accepted it as part of its deal to buy DirecTV (Nasdaq: DTV) and even Comcast and Time Warner Cable (NYSE: TWC-WI) agreed to it when they split of Adelphia. The big issue now--and the one that could delay approval of the deal beyond Comcast's ever-optimistic end of the year timetable--is how to make arbitration easy and inexpensive for those who need to use it.

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