Bernie Sanders Raises Concerns About Charter-TWC Merger

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders joined with four Democratic senatorial colleagues to raise red flags about the Charter-Time Warner Cable merger proposal at the FCC and Department of Justice.

In addition to Sanders, Sens. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Al Franken (D-Minn.), among the Senate's most consistent communications merger critics, as well as Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) expressed their concerns in the letters to FCC chairman Tom Wheeler and attorney general Loretta Lynch.

They said the merger would create a new nationwide broadband duopoly, with New Charter and Comcast controlling two-thirds of the high-speed homes.

They also took aim at the debt involved in the deal, saying it could affect the build-out commitments Charter has made.

“Unfortunately, the proposed deal raises serious concerns about the future of this critical marketplace because it would establish a duopoly in the high-speed broadband industry," they wrote. "Comcast and New Charter’s dual dominance of the market could lead to a number of concrete harms to consumers, including higher prices and fewer innovative services."

But they did not ask the agencies to block the deal.

“New Charter must not only prove that this deal would not harm consumers, but they must also demonstrate that it would actually benefit them and promote the public interest.”

But the letter extended beyond the particular facts of the deal to suggest a wider concern: "Greater consolidation among existing broadband incumbents stands in contrast to what we need today," they wrote, which his "greater competition."

Charter responded with a statement it has issued before in response to criticisms of the deal.

“Charter is a different type of cable company—committed to creating American jobs, offering the most innovative products, preserving an open internet and advancing policies that are friendly to both consumers and online video providers. New Charter's consumer-friendly, pro-broadband policies and national footprint, will enable it to be an industry leader committed to providing superior broadband and video services at competitive rates, improved customer service and a better platform for online video and independent programming. New Charter has received broad support from leading OVD provider Netflix because of its online video friendly practices; independent programmers including AXS, Fuse Media and RFD-TV due to its commitment to diverse programming; national multicultural organizations like National Urban League, NAN and LULAC with whom it is collaborating to expand diversity and inclusion; and from the State of New York which recently approved the merger. These parties have taken a close and honest look at the benefits of these transactions and have all come to the same conclusion: these transactions are in the public interest.”

The FCC is said to be in discussions over possible conditions on the deal, which could have prompted the letter to insure that the broadband concerns are getting the FCC and DOJ’s full attention. The commission has signaled broadband access and deployment and video are all key issues in this and other mergers.

John Eggerton

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.