Opponents of the pending merger between Comcast and Time Warner Cable (TWC) joined together in a coalition they’re calling the “Stop Mega Comcast Coalition." Announced last February, the $45 billion merger of the two largest cable companies in the US is currently under review by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the Justice Department.
According to the Coalition Manifesto, the merger would give Comcast “unprecedented market power” in the cable and broadband market. This market power would stifle competition and result in fewer programming choices for consumers, it says. Coalition members include consumer advocacy groups such as the Parents Television Council, telecommunications lobbying groups such as the Independent Telephone & Telecommunications Alliance, and alternative pay-TV provider DISH Network.
Comcast contends that the merger will benefit customers. It plans to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to upgrade TWC's networks, according to a statement by Comcast corporate communications vice president Sena Fitzmaurice. Improved networks would provide faster Internet speeds to the 11 million TWC customers who would be added to Comcast’s current 22 million video subscribers if the merger is approved.
In response to competition concerns, Comcast points out that it doesn’t compete with TWC in any service areas. Thus, there would not be a reduction of consumer broadband service choice.
While the cable companies may not compete with their cable lines, they do compete via TV programming contracts, says Dan Isett, director of communications and policy for the Parents Television Council. For example, he points to Comcast's practice of cable companies bundling televisions networks, forcing customers to subsidize content they don’t want just to get access to cable TV. The merger “makes an already existing problem exponentially worse,” says Mr. Isett, since it broadens Comcast's reach and strengthens its market power.
The coalition’s launch coincided with the FCC resuming its informal 180-day review of the merger. The countdown had been paused in late October, not uncommon for mergers as large as this, leaving a little more than three months to complete the review. The FCC needed to determine how to securely review confidential information – for example, contracts and negotiations from TV programming companies such as CBS and Time Warner, which is not a part of Time Warner Cable.
Stop Mega Comcast Coalition worries that the issues have been framed in terms of regulation and corporate efficiencies, not the public interest. “Our role," says Isett, "is to try to bring a parent/family perspective, an outside-the-Beltway perspective.”
For those who would like to share their own perspective, the FCC provides instructions for submitting comments about the Comcast-TWC merger.