Dish, Consumer Groups Unite to Fight Comcast/TWC Deal

The deal’s biggest opponents formed ‘Stop Mega Comcast Coalition’ to advocate against the $45 billion cable merger

Declaring the government review of Comcast’s deal for Time Warner Cable is at “a critical moment,” some of the deal’s big opponents announced plans Wednesday to join together to buttress their fight against the $45 billion cable merger.

Officials from Dish Network, the Blaze, the Writers Guild of America West and consumer groups including Public Knowledge and the Consumer Federation of America said the creation of their new “Stop Mega Comcast Coalition” will give the groups a united voice in their talks with the Justice Department and the Federal Communications Commission, allowing them to use each other’s analytical reports on the deal.

“We think this is our best way of galvanizing much of the opposition and making sure we are not drowned out by the Comcast lobbying machine,” said Gene Kimmelman, a former top Justice Department official who is president of Public Knowledge.

“We have each expressed our views. We have been informally working together. We understand that Comcast has doubled down with its advertising and lobbying. We don’t have their resources. We are not big and powerful like they are. But we think by combining all these voices and all the analytics we enhance our power.”

Jeff Blum, Dish’s associate general counsel, said the coalition will urge both federal agencies to turn down the deal. “What we are going to do is as a united group is urge the outright rejection of the merger with no conditions,” he said. “We are going to make that message known to the FCC, to members of the press, to the [Capitol] Hill, and to consumers.”

The officials said the coalition was also formed in reaction to a growing sense that as the final government review of the deal moves closer — the FCC and the Justice Department are expected to rule early next year, though a court case could slightly delay a final decision — approval of it may be far less certain then once thought.

The FCC announced Wednesday that it has restarted its shot clock, after it had temporarily halted its normal review process while a dispute over whether competitors would get access to some information filed by Comcast was worked out.

Consumer groups and critics contend the deal will give Comcast too much power over the Web and competitors. Blum said Wednesday that Dish is planning to offer a cable-like service over the Web and one of Dish’s concerns is about how Comcast would treat broadband customers who chose to use Dish to receive cable channels.

“There is a growing sense that conditions won’t do it,” said Blum. “There are so many subtle covert ways that Comcast can engage in sabotage, that conditions cannot come close to addressing. Even if they were the most perfect conditions, Comcast would litigate and delay, and meanwhile consumers are harmed. We are all united in saying the merger should be rejected.”

Ellen Stutzman, director of research and public policy for the WGA-W, said the guild remains very concerned about the deal. “The notion that such a large distributor would not use its power to restrain competition is fantasy,” she said.

In a statement to TheWrap on Wednesday, Comcast pointed to support for the deal. “Hundreds of community organizations, programmers, lawmakers and diversity groups have praised the pro-consumer benefits of this transaction.

“It is no secret that some companies that want billions of dollars in higher fees for consumers are paying lobbying firms to organize against this transaction.  This minority of self-interested opponents has used the same tactics in our past deals, and their claims were not found to be credible by the expert agencies. We believe the same will be true here.”