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ACA: Charter-TWC Deal Needs Strong Conditions

The American Cable Association has asked the FCC to apply various conditions on the Charter-Time Warner Cable-Bright House merger, saying without "significant, effective and long-lasting remedial conditions," the deal is not in the public interest and should not be approved.

As have other potential competitors to the merged company—Dish, COMPTEL—ACA points to the alleged new programming clout of a New Charter with ties to Discovery and Starz and says current program access and arbitration remedies are not sufficient to remedy the potential harms posed by those ties.

ACA sought similar conditions when Comcast tried unsuccessfully to merge with TWC.

ACA points to the Discovery and Starz programming "associated" with Charter—John Malone's Liberty Broadband is the largest shareholder—and says that is very important to its members, who have to buy those networks for their systems. "ACA members that compete with New Charter will feel the impact of the combination of these video programming and distribution assets," said ACA.

"In view of the fact that this transaction increases and spreads the existing harms of Charter's and BHN's affiliation with Discovery and Charter's affiliation with Starz, and these harms will result in higher costs to consumers, the Charter-TWC-BHN transaction calls for the imposition of conditions and those conditions must be more effective than those used by the FCC in previous cases and specifically targeted to improve their functionality for small and medium-sized MVPDs," ACA president Matt Polka said of the deal.

ACA says must-have remedies include a non-discriminatory access condition and a commercial arbitration condition for New Charter-affiliated programming, and that the FCC has to "significantly bolster" enforcement of that nondiscriminatory access condition so its smaller MVPD members are protected from the combined company's increased bargaining position, and make sure the arbitration condition is a viable option for smaller carriers.

Charter had no comment on the specific filing, but it has also pointed out that the programming "associations" are shareholders that own shares in Charter and also in programming companies. The FCC does have attributable interest rules that apply, but Charter has said in its public interest statement that there are procedures in place to insure programming decisions are in the best interest of Charter, not any shareholder block.

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.