65 Groups call on the FCC to stop the Comcast-Time Warner Cable Merger

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August 25, 2014

65 Groups Urge the FCC to Reject the Comcast-Time Warner Cable Merger 

Deal Would Give Comcast Unprecedented Market Power & Lead To Higher Prices and Fewer Choices For Consumers

Sixty-five organizations representing consumers, content producers, and social justice and democracy-reform advocates called on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) today to reject the proposed merger between Comcast and Time Warner Cable.  The FCC is currently reviewing the deal to determine whether it serves the public interest.

In a letter to the FCC, the groups warned that the merger would give Comcast “unprecedented gatekeeper control” over the nation’s telecommunications and media landscape and lead to higher prices and fewer choices for broadband and cable customers.  The merger would give Comcast too much control over the future of the Internet and communications infrastructure and undermine the diversity of ownership and content in media, according to the groups.

The letter highlights Comcast’s history of failing to meet commitments made to gain approval for its previous merger with NBCUniversal.  “Given this history, no amount of promises or conditions would be good enough to assuage concerns about this merger….The deal needs to be rejected outright.”

A full copy of the letter along with a list of organizations that signed it follows:

August 25, 2014

 Chairman Tom Wheeler
Federal Communications Commission
445 12st St SW
Washington, DC 20554

Dear Chairman Wheeler:

On behalf of the 65 undersigned organizations, representing low-income consumers, community-based leaders, content producers, and public interest organizations from across the country, we urge you to stop the proposed merger between Comcast and Time Warner Cable. A merger between the nation’s two largest cable companies would inevitably lead to unprecedented gatekeeper control over our nation’s telecommunications and media landscape. It would mean higher prices and fewer choices for broadband users and cable customers. It would put too much control over the future of the Internet and our communications infrastructure in one company’s hands and would negatively impact diversity in ownership and content.

Pay-TV rates have risen for two straight decades, and Comcast’s rates have gone up as fast as anyone’s despite its scale. Comcast’s Executive Vice President David Cohen made no promises that this merger would rein in those skyrocketing prices, saying there was no guarantee “that customer bills are going to go down or even increase less rapidly.”[1]

This deal would increase Comcast’s service area to almost two-thirds of the U.S. It would allow Comcast to use its increased market power, and increased control over millions more customers, to dictate terms to broadband content providers and increase its leverage over cable programmers. To put it mildly, combining these two firms would lessen competition and harm innovation, but not improve the consumer experience.

Despite all this, Comcast is currently trying to impress Washington by claiming to provide low-cost broadband access to low income communities and by nominally embracing Net Neutrality. Yet due to barriers that limit eligibility, customer difficulty with signing up, and lack of outreach even to eligible participants, the company’s Internet Essentials program has not delivered on its promises.

Comcast’s commitment to Net Neutrality is also problematic to say the least. First, all broadband users deserve strong Open Internet protections, and that’s only possible with Title II reclassification that applies to every broadband provider. Merger conditions that apply only to Comcast are no substitute for rules protecting everyone, no matter how strong those conditions may be.  Moreover, the conditions that apply to Comcast today are not permanent. Comcast agreed to Net Neutrality conditions that run until 2018 to gain approval for its previous merger with NBCUniversal.

After 2018, those conditions expire and Comcast customers would be left without protection absent reclassification and real Net Neutrality rules. Our rights to connect and communicate should not have an expiration date. Even while these conditions have been in place, Comcast has found ways to manipulate them – using its market power to charge new tolls for Internet content and create special exemptions for its own video services. These kinds of anticompetitive practices would only grow as a result of this merger.

Comcast has a history of misrepresenting its adherence to other merger commitments, too. It has been fined for failing to fulfill the standalone broadband service commitments it also made for the NBCUniversal acquisition, and it had to be ordered by the FCC to live up to its commitments about equitable treatment for independent channels. Given this history, no amount of promises or conditions would be good enough to assuage concerns about this merger. The deal needs to be rejected outright.

The transaction is just as concerning for its negative impacts on media localism and diversity. At the state level, firms like Comcast have lobbied for “State Franchising” bills that have stripped municipalities of the power to negotiate franchise agreements with cable companies. This merger would also further the need for measures promoting diversity in ownership. The FCC’s most recent statistics found that already low ownership levels for people of color have only gotten worse. Allowing Comcast to merge with Time Warner Cable would only continue the trend away from the diverse local media our communities need.

In closing, we urge the Federal Communications Commission to review the facts—this merger is not in the public interest.  Hundreds of thousands of people around the country have already called on you to stop this merger and an increasing number of people around the country want the opportunity to meet with the FCC face to face to provide the data and public input crucial for informed discussions and decisions about this merger.  For these reasons, we ask you to reject this deal.

Signed,

About Disability

Access Humboldt

Appalshop, Inc.

Art Is Change

Austin Airwaves

Broadband Alliance of Mendocino County

Cambridge Community Television

CCTV Center for Media & Democracy

Center for Digital Democracy

Center for Media Justice

Center for Rural Strategies

ColorOfChange.org

Common Cause

Common Cause Colorado

Common Cause Hawaii

Common Cause Illinois

Common Cause New York

Common Frequency

Community Media Visioning

Consumers Union

Courage Campaign

CREDO Mobile

Daily Kos

Demand Progress

Democracy for America

Easton Community Access Television

Evanston Community TV

Free Press

FREE! (Families Rally for Emancipation and Empowerment)

Future of Music Coalition

Generation Justice

Global Action Project

Independent Media Publications

Institute for Local Self Reliance

Iraq Veterans Against the War

Martinez Street Women’s Project

Media Action Grassroots Network (MAG-Net)

Media Alliance

Media Literacy Project

Media Mobilizing Project

Minnesota Center for Neighborhood Organizing

National Alliance for Media Arts & Culture

National Organization for Women

Nothing Without Us

OpenMedia International

Open Technology Institute, New America Foundation

Philadelphia Student Union

Popular Resistance

Presente.org

Progressives United

Prometheus Radio Project

Public Knowledge

Rural Broadband Policy Group

St. Paul Neighborhood Network

Sports Fan Coalition

Stop Comcast

SumOfUs

The Greenlining Institute

The Harry Potter Alliance

The Other 98%

The People’s Press Project

TURN – The Utility Reform Network

Writers Guild of America East

Women in Media & News

Working Narratives

[1] http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2014/02/comcast-no-promise-that-prices-will-go-down-or-even-increase-less-rapidly/

Contact:  Michael McCauley, Consumers Union, mmccauley@consumer.org, 415-902-9537 (cell) or Dale Eisman, Common Cause, deisman@commoncause.org, 202-736-5788 or Tim Karr, tkarr@freepress.net, 201-533-8838