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My 3 wishes for the new Comcast $20million minority entrepreneur fund

So the Comcast/NBC Universal merger was approved yesterday. As expected, the FCC voted in favor 4 to 1 and as anticipated, Commissioner Michael Copps, dissented. No surprise there. Copps has been lamenting about how much he disliked this and any form of media consolidation for years now.

Commissioner Mignon Clyburn responded to all of the fearful rhetoric out there about how this merger will mean the end to localism, diversity in programming, competition, lower prices and a host of other evils.  She stated,   “it is with far more comfortable optimism than fearful skepticism that I vote to affirm the joint venture between Comcast and NBC Universal.”

As part of the merger, Comcast-NBCU will be required to take affirmative steps to foster competition in the video marketplace.  In addition, Comcast-NBCU will increase local news coverage to viewers; expand children’s programming; enhance the diversity of programming available to Spanish-speaking viewers; offer broadband services to low-income Americans at reduced monthly prices; and provide high-speed broadband to schools, libraries and underserved communities, among other public benefits.

Indeed a lot of government officials, legislators, public interest and consumer interest groups and minority advocacy groups had a lot to say about the merger.  Some were able to see how it would help pull up NBCUs less than stellar record of minority procurement, community involvement, diversity programming and bring it on par with Comcast’s record.  The concessions are great. The key is to make sure they are abided by and followed through on — as a lesson I’ve learned from the Sirius/XM merger deal is that a merger condition is only as good as the enforcement efforts used to make sure they are completed.  (because of constitutional law concerns, the Sirius/XM set-aside for minority programmers got watered down last minute and only time will tell if those channels are put in the hands of diverse players).

I digress.

In addition, Comcast  promised to establish a $20 million venture capital fund for minority entrepreneurs to develop “new media content and applications” when the deal closes.

Despite the fact that many consumer advocacy groups are against the merger, I am able to look at the potential benefits it could mean for (1) expanding the number and amount of diverse programmers in the market; (2) enabling more people to get online; and (3) providing a source of capital to new digital entrepreneurs who may be able to benefit from the $20 million fund.

A few thoughts on the fund and wishes for it:

1. it could have been increased to a higher amount because $20million can go far but $50 million would go further to really help some projects get off the ground, but it is a start and perhaps to counterbalance this amount, Comcast could place some of it in a revolving interest bearing account and run it sort of like an endowment so it continues to grow;

2. whomever is in charge of the fund should make it a point of funding projects/businesses that will be sustainable and not pigeonhole the fund to financing businesses that target the minority community only.  There are a host of entrepreneurs who have businesses and start ups that are minority-owned yet target the general market; and

3. have whatever fund manager in charge of it focus primarily on managing this fund and maximizing its usage otherwise, it won’t get the attention it deserves.  If it is undernourished, it will teeter out very soon and the purpose of it will not be actualized.  t would be a travesty to have the capital access bridge the same or farther expanded after this fund is exhausted.  Funding the best possible, sustainable projects is a sure fire way to make sure this doesn’t happen.

As for the new programming channels, I am hopeful that the search for content, talent, executives is far and wide and not limited to the usual circle of insiders.  There are a lot of qualified people of color out there, especially on the net doing phenomenal things and looking for a venue and avenue to really shine.  The world is waiting.  This deal’s concessions represent a wonderful opportunity for them to have that break.

This has me thinking I should really finish that proposal for the radio show pitch! When the cards are in line, I’d love to make sure I too can throw my hat into the ring for what it’s worth.  Now whether they kick it out is another story for another day.

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