California PUC’s Merger Review Heats Up
By Michael McCauley on Monday, March 16th, 2015
Late last week, the Federal Communications Commission paused the shot clock on its review of the Comcast – Time Warner Cable merger. Technically, the FCC has 180 days to complete its review but can start and stop the clock at any time. The agency paused the clock while a lawsuit plays out in court over whether certain opponents of the merger will gain access to sensitive documents filed in the deal.
But in California, the Public Utilities Commission’s review of the deal is moving full steam ahead. Both California and New York have been taking a close look at the merger and decisions in those states could have a big impact on whether the merger goes through nationally.
Consumers Union and other merger opponents have been working hard to convince the CPUC to turn down the deal and recently submitted petitions signed by over 90,000 Californians calling on it to do so.
On March 12, CU joined Common Cause, Courage Campaign, Daily Kos, Greenlining Institute, Media Alliance, and TURN to mobilize California residents to come to the CPUC bi-monthly business meeting and speak out against the merger.
Local residents packed the room and close to 30 of them urged the Commissioners to reject the merger during the public comment portion of the meeting. Speaker after speaker shared stories about Comcast and how they’d been hit with unexpected price hikes and poor customer service and how things would get worse if the merger got the CPUC’s blessing.
Just a few weeks ago, the administrative law judge overseeing the CPUC’s review of the merger issued a proposed decision that found that it would hurt competition and harm California if it was approved. Nonetheless, the judge recommended that it be approved with a long list of conditions to try to make up for that damage.
But there’s simply no way to prevent or overcome all of the harm that would be caused if this deal gets the green light. Many of the conditions would expire after a few years and the CPUC simply doesn’t have the resources and capacity to enforce them.
On top of that, Comcast has arrogantly objected to virtually every condition proposed by the judge. That should give the Commissioners good reason to doubt whether Comcast can be held accountable for complying with any conditions it is able to extract in exchange for approving the deal. After all, Comcast has a history of violating key conditions of its previous merger with NBC Universal.
As Tracy Rosenberg of Media Alliance put it in her recent op-ed against the merger in the San Francisco Chronicle, “If something takes two dozen onerous conditions to prevent significant damage, then maybe the public is better off without it…A million conditions can’t make this a good enough deal. There comes a time to just say no.”
The CPUC is currently scheduled to vote on the merger at its March 26th meeting but that vote could be postponed. Stay tuned.