Comcast/TWC Critics Unappeased By Charter Swap

Comcast and Charter's just announced sub swap, which would make Charter the second largest cable operator after a combined Comcast/Time Warner Cable but reduce the latter's sub total by almost 4 million subs, was meant to both remove Charter as a possible rival for TWC and make the deal more palatable to regulators. One thing it won't do is quiet the deal's strongest critics, for whom virtually nothing in the way of conditions and concessions will suffice.

“We’ve known from the day that the Comcast-Time Warner Cable deal was announced that Comcast intended to divest some subscribers, so this doesn’t change anything,” Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), told B&C Monday. “The fact remains that Comcast will have unprecedented power in the television and broadband markets, and I’m very concerned that Comcast will use that power to squeeze competitors and consumers.”

"This convoluted transaction may change the final score, but it can't change the fact that this deal is a big loss for innovation and competition," said Matt Wood, policy director for Free Press.

"Cable barons have always done a great job dividing up the country and refusing to compete with each other. Turning three giant companies into two behemoths gives no comfort to content providers or consumers. It should be equally unimpressive to lawmakers and antitrust authorities too."

Public Knowledge is not looking that far ahead, said a spokesman, since the deal would have to be approved for the swaps to be made, and it is not looking for that to happen. Besides, he pointed out, Public Knowledge took the swaps into account in its initial assessment of the merger—Comcast had signaled it would spin off enough systems to keep the new company below the FCC's traditional 30% cap on subs. But critics have said the creation of an ISP with some 40% of subs—Comcast has figured it at closer to 20% when all competitors are factored in—changes the equation.

"Does it make [the deal] any more palatable? No," he said. "It's still a deal that we are staunchly opposed to."

"No set of conditions are going to make the deal palatable to the public interest and I don't see how this changes the basic dynamics of the deal, which are terrible for consumers and competition," said Todd O'Boyle, a spokesman for Common Cause.

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.