Californians Rally Against the Comcast Mega Merger

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By Michael McCauley on Wednesday, April 15th, 2015

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The battle to stop the Comcast mega merger moved to Los Angeles this week where the California Public Utilities Commission held a hearing on the deal on Tuesday.  The hearing took place less than one week after Commissioner Mike Florio announced his opposition to the merger, the latest sign that Comcast’s takeover scheme may be in trouble.

The stakes are particularly high in California.  If the merger goes through, Comcast would gain a potentially permanent statewide monopoly serving up to 84 percent of households in the state.  In L.A. County, Comcast would be the only choice for high speed broadband for more than 70 percent of county residents living in the company’s post-merger territory.

Prior to the hearing, opponents of the merger held a rally and news conference organized by Presente.org and other local community groups that attracted an enthusiastic crowd of around 100 people and numerous media outlets, including the Los Angeles Times.  Speakers highlighted how the merger would harm competition and hurt Californians and called on the CPUC to reject it.

Arturo Carmona, Executive Director of Presente.org, emphasized how the merger would have a particularly negative impact on Latinos:

“The proposed Comcast-Time Warner merger would be a disaster for the entire nation, particularly Californians, and a huge defeat for advocates of accessible internet.  And for Latinos, this is the most dangerous merger our community has seen in recent memory, creating a total monopoly endangering the Latino communities’ access to uncensored media in English and Spanish and affordable internet. We simply cannot allow one company to control nearly all our access to media and the internet.” 

The CPUC hearing, held in a jam-packed auditorium at the Junipero Serra state office building, featured nearly 2 ½ hours of testimony from the public.  Predictably, Comcast and Time Warner Cable lined up representatives from nonprofits that have gotten grants from the companies who testified in favor of the merger.

Opponents of the merger turned out in equally large numbers and nearly 40 of them were able to speak out against the deal before public testimony was eventually cut off.  Many local residents noted that they had not received any financial support from either Comcast or Time Warner Cable in contrast to most of those who spoke in support of the companies.

The testimony from AJ Jones of Studio City was typical of the remarks offered by others:

“If this merger were allowed to go through, I would be stuck with another cable company with a national reputation for bad customer service.  With almost 30 million subscribers, I struggle to see how its service could possibly get better!  I understand that you have offered to approve the merger subject to a set of conditions.  If Comcast cannot keep its promises to its own existing customers, what assurance do you have that it will keep its promise to the people of California?” 

Jones was referring to the administrative law judge’s proposed decision in the CPUC’s review of the merger.  The judge concluded that the merger was anticompetitive and would harm Californians but nonetheless recommended it be approved subject to 25 conditions that aimed to make up for that harm.

Comcast has arrogantly objected to all 25 of those conditions.  That should give the Commissioners good reason to doubt whether Comcast can be held accountable for complying with any conditions they are able to extract in exchange for approving the deal.  The good news is that the CPUC has another alternative – to reject the merger outright as Commissioner Florio has proposed.

Commissioner Peterman announced during yesterday’s hearing that it is unlikely that the PUC will vote on the merger on May 21, the earliest date that it could take action.  It looks like there will be another public hearing on the deal in the coming weeks.  That gives us another opportunity to keep up the pressure.

Consumers Union is proud to work with such a talented and effective group of advocates working to defeat the merger in California.  Among those who helped make the events in Los Angeles such a success are Courage Campaign, Color of Change, Common Cause, Free Press, Greenlining Institute, Media Alliance, Presente.org, TURN, and Writers Guild of America, West.

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