House Judiciary Committee ranking member Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) told the FCC and Justice Department that if they approve the Charter-Time Warner Cable deal with conditions (as most now expect to happen), it must make them "durable and easily enforceable."
Industry sources have confirmed reports that FCC chairman Tom Wheeler is expected to circulate a deal approval proposal, with conditions on broadband buildouts and access to programming, within the next few days—the FCC's informal 180-day shot clock on the deal hits the 180-day mark next week.
In a letter to Wheeler and attorney general Loretta Lynch, Conyers urged them to continue a close review of the deal and succinctly summed up the cons being touted by deal critics, and the pros offered up by Charter.
The former is that New Charter could 1) undermine OTT competitors; 2) would together with Comcast—cable ISPs don't generally compete head to head in the same markets—account for north of 70% of high-speed broadband subs; and 3) could make it tougher for independent programmers without marquee sports or other programming to get carriage.
He cited Charter's counters that 1) it has made commitments to protect online video distributors; 2) to adhere to network neutrality rules regardless of what a court rules in their challenge (Comcast made a similar promise in securing approval of the NBCU deal); 3) that 88% of households would have a choice of two broadband providers; and 4) that it does not have significant programming interests to protect, that it carries diverse nets, and has independent programmer support.
He did not mention, but Charter has, that it does not charge for interconnection and has no broadband usage caps.
Conyers asked the pair to weigh both sides, but repeated at the end of this letter that conditions on the deal, and there certainly will be some, are "durable and easily enforceable."
Likely conditions on the deal include broadband buildouts, perhaps even overbuilds, and access to online programming.
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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.