Franken, Warren, 4 other Senators: block Comcast-Time Warner deal

WASHINGTON – Sen. Al Franken (D., Minn.) and five other liberal senators wrote federal regulators Tuesday urging them to block Comcast’s proposed purchase of Time Warner Cable.

Should the deal win approval, “we believe that Comcast-TWC’s unmatched power in the telecommunications industry would lead to higher prices, fewer choices, and poorer quality services for Americans—inhibiting U.S. consumers’ ability to fully benefit from modern technologies and American businesses’ capacity to innovate and compete on a global scale,” wrote Franken and Sens. Bernard Sanders (I., Vt.), Ed Markey (D., Mass.), Ron Wyden (D., Ore.), Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.) and Richard Blumenthal (D., Conn.).

The $45 billion deal between the nation’s first and second largest cable companies is under review from the Federal Communications Commission and Department of Justice, and word leaked out last week that Justice’s anti-trust lawyers are leaning against the proposal.

Comcast is scheduled to meet with Justice department officials Wednesday and has said there is no legal basis to block the deal, which the companies argue would benefit consumers by leading to faster internet speeds and other improvements.

Opposition from these six senators is not surprising – Franken has long bristled at Comcast and the others who joined his letter have often spoken out against media consolidation.

But the letter comes amid a review in which Comcast has won little of its usual support from Capitol Hill. While Pennsylvania senators and Congressmen have backed the Philadelphia company, few others lawmakers have openly advocated for the deal to win approval, despite Comcast’s extensive lobbying operation.

Even among skeptical lawmakers, few had called for explicitly killing the deal, until now.

The six senators wrote Tuesday that regulators should “defend American competition and innovation and ensure that Americans have affordable access to high-quality telecommunications services.”

Opponents worry that a combined company that would be the dominant cable and broadband provider in 19 of the country's top 20 media markets will have too much power over programmers, advertisers and potential competitors who rely on the internet to reach viewers.

Comcast has said the deal will give it the size and scale to invest in innovative technology and improved products. The company has said there are no competitive problems created by a merger because Comcast and Time Warner don’t overlap in any of their current markets.

Updated with Comcast response Tuesday:
“The benefits of the Comcast-TWC deal are demonstrated and real," Comcast spokeswoman Sena Fitzmaurice wrote Tuesday. "A better video experience – Comcast has twice as much VOD as TWC.  Faster broadband speeds – today Comcast’s are 25 percent faster than TWC’s and we’ll roll out faster speeds to more customers. More competition for businesses that economists estimate will save $8 billion for consumers.  The country’s best broadband adoption program for low-income Americans would come to new cities, and even more Americans will get connected for the first time.  These benefits all come with no reduction in competition for consumers.  We’ll serve less than 30 percent of the video market, and only about 30 million of the 87 million broadband subscriptions in the US.”

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