Sounds like Judge Richard Leon of the DC federal court is sabre rattling, but you have to pay attention when someone in a position like his even hints that he may try to undo a deal as big as Comcast’s acquisition of NBCUniversal. Leon says he’s “not sure I’m going to sign” a court review of the Justice Department’s settlement terms that are enforceable for seven years, The Wall Street Journal reports. His reason? The provision that calls for an arbitrator to resolve disputes between Comcast and online content distributors who want NBCU programming is “not in the public interest,” Leon reportedly said. The arbitration provision applies to a condition that would require Comcast not to discriminate against competing video services that want to license NBCU shows. The judge, who was appointed George W. Bush, says that courts might do a better job of protecting the public than an arbitrator would, for example by requiring annual reviews to ensure that the judgment is being upheld. But those who favor arbitration, including many public-interest advocates, say it helps to level the playing field: Companies challenging Comcast in court could run out of cash while the media giant appeals decisions it doesn’t like. As it is, the government’s conditions for Comcast enable challengers to take their cases to the Justice Department, where decisions are final, or the FCC, where they can be appealed. Comcast has no problem with the deal terms — it just wants the whole thing resolved. For now, though, Comcast and Justice lawyers will try to explain the thinking behind the arbitration clause the Journal says citing “people familiar with the matter.”
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