Consumer Groups Urge FCC to Reject Comcast/Time Warner Cable Deal

Comcast Time Warner Cable

Potential merger would be ‘unprecedented, monumental step in the direction of further consolidation of Big Media’

Two big consumer groups — Consumers Union and Common Cause — on Thursday urged the Federal Communications Commission to reject Comcast’s deal for Time Warner Cable. It sounds a warning that the transaction would give Comcast too much control over video choices.

“This merger would harm competition, impede innovation by online video distributors, threaten innovation in equipment and platforms and reduce the diversity of information sources and services to the public, all to the detriment of consumers and contrary to public interest,” the groups said in a joint filing with the agency.

The organizations also struck out at a key argument the two companies have employed in asking the FCC and the Justice Department to approve the deal. That previous request claimed that the combination doesn’t harm competition because TWC and Comcast operate cable systems in different markets.

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“By the logic of that narrow view, Comcast should be free to acquire every cable and Internet company throughout the country in every market it does not already serve — amassing a nationwide monopoly,” the groups said.

The groups said the deal isn’t fixable by imposing conditions. They suggested that the right approach for the FCC’s review is to examine what the deal would do in giving a single company “unprecedented control over the means by which video programming is distributed to American consumers” and to reject it outright.

The consumer groups expressed their views as the FCC nears the end of the time it set aside for public comment on the deal. Comments are due Aug. 25. The companies are fighting a request from the City of Los Angeles to extend the comment period — a move that would delay any final decision on the deal.

Local service groups and charities that benefit from the cable companies’ support have urged the FCC to approve the deal.

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“It is my belief that the Comcast and Time Warner Cable transaction is a marvelous proposal and deserves the Commission’s wholehearted support,” wrote Janet L. Mintzer, president-CEO of Pearl S. Buck International. “Comcast is a corporation that truly lives in and works for the community.”

Andrea L. Zopp, president of the Chicago Urban League, wrote to urge the FCC to approve the deal.

“Comcast is a strong supporter of the Urban League movement throughout the country. … I sincerely ask that you approve this transaction so that the Urban Leaguers and everyone else can benefit,” Zopp said.

Some ad agency media buying executives have also offered support for the deal to the FCC.

“I believe that the efficiency and effectiveness of media buys and targeted messaging will increase through the combined company, and that improved ad innovations will create new opportunities for advertisers to deploy spend in an engaging medium,” MediaVest CEO Brian Terkelsen wrote.

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Meanwhile, consumer groups and individual consumers have urged the FCC to reject the deal. Consumer Union and Common Cause on Thursday argued the deal would be bad for consumers and bad for the country.

They said, “Comcast and TWC already dominate television and broadband service in most parts of the country and this merger would only expand and strengthen and solidify that dominance.

“The merger of Comcast and TWC would be an unprecedented, monumental step in the direction of further consolidation of big media.”