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Coalition: Timing Is Right

The Stop Mega Comcast Coalition, a group of 15 organizations hell-bent on halting the merger between Comcast and Time Warner Cable, said the time is right to step up efforts to block the deal, just as regulators are getting serious in their scrutiny of the transaction.

The coalition, whose members range from the large (Dish Network), to the not-so large (cable channels TheBlaze and WeatherNation TV) – and several public interest and industry groups in between, launched what they hope will be an intense and effective lobbying effort to block the deal.

In a conference call with reporters after the launch, coalition member Gene Kimmelman, CEO of Washington watchdog Public Knowledge, said the time was right for a combined effort.

“We think this is a critical moment,” Kimmelman said. “We think now we are in a serious review with the Dept. of Justice and the FCC. We understand that Comcast has doubled down with its lobbying efforts and its push and its advertising and we think it’s time for us to do the best we can. We don’t have their resources; we’re not big and powerful like they are, but we think that by combining all these voices and all of these analytics that these companies and groups have submitted to the enforcement agencies, we enhance our power by coming together.”

Kimmelman may be right. Shortly after the Coalition was officially unveiled on Dec. 3, the Federal Communications Commission restarted the 180-day shot clock on the Comcast-TWC merger review.

Most of the companies in the coalition have already made their opposition to the deal known in individual filings with the FCC. But Dish Network senior vice president and deputy general counsel Jeff Blum said the coalition allows the members to pool their resources and put forth a more concise and hopefully more effective message.

Just how that message will be sent is still a question. Blum said that while the companies do intend to place ads in print and TV media to get its point across, it won’t be on a massive level.

“We don’t need to run ads in Comm Daily every day like Comcast is doing,” Blum said. “We think it’s more conducive to meet with policy makers to explain the concerns on behalf of the coalition. There may be advertising opportunities, but it’s not a PR effort, it’s substantive.”

He added that the effort will be centered instead on getting the message to key decision makers on Capitol Hill, at the FCC and to consumers.

What also sets the coalition apart from other opponents to the deal is that it doesn’t seem to be pushing for a compromise. While other groups have lobbied for conditions to the deal centered around an open Internet, Blum said there is no room for compromise.

“This is not about net neutrality, this is about whether the public is served by having Comcast and Time Warner [Cable] merge,” Blum said. “We don’t think conditions can work.”

While the coalition is new, its message is one that has been shouted by countless opponents of the deal since it was first announced in February – that a combined Comcast-TWC, with nearly 30 million video subscribers and controlling huge chunk of the high-speed Internet customers in the country is just too big. But just how big is somewhat in the eye of the beholder. While the coalition claims that Comcast-TWC would control 50% of the broadband market, others say that reach is more like 35%. And while there have been vocal critics of the deal, there have also been cheerleaders , including state and local officials, public policy and advocacy groups, and some programmers and advertisers.

“Hundreds of community organizations, programmers, lawmakers and diversity groups have praised the pro-consumer benefits of this transaction,” Comcast said in a statement. “It is no secret that some companies that want billions of dollars in higher fees for consumers are paying lobbying firms to organize against this transaction. This minority of self-interested opponents has used the same tactics in our past deals, and their claims were not found to be credible by the expert agencies. We believe the same will be true here."

If you were wondering how Comcast really feels about the coalition, here's a blog post that maps out the company's position in greater detail.