Sen. Harry Reid Has Issues With Charter Deal

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid has added his name to the Democratic legislators urging the FCC to look hard at the Charter/Time Warner Cable/Bright House deal.

In a letter to Attorney General Loretta Lynch and FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, a copy of which was obtained by Multichannel News/B&C, Reid predicated his criticism on the argument that there is little competition in high-speed broadband and that further consolidation increases the risk of higher prices and fewer choices.

Reid is a long-time media consolidation critic, including trying to invalidate an FCC ownership deregulation decision in the broadcast space back in 2008.

He said given that the deal would create a Comcast/New Charter broadband duopoly, the FCC needed to examine it closely.

The letter was mostly filled with questions. He pointed to the Comcast/Time Warner Cable deal, which he said the FCC and DOJ had concluded would be more likely together to act as a gatekeeper between customers and content providers.

He said there was a "significant question" about whether the Charter deal has the potential to erect barriers to broadband competition, which he said are "inextricably linked."

He also invoked the relationship between Charter and Liberty Media and said that could not be ignored. The FCC hasn't shown signs of ignoring it, last month getting new info from Charter and Liberty about that relationship.

He even raised some issues with conditions, which the FCC staffers are said to be focusing on as the deal review moves toward an unofficial 180-day deal clock coming due in late March.

"while the companies involved in the Charter transaction may commit to mitigating anticompetitive outcomes, I ask that you closely review how effectively such commitments may be enforced." He also suggests that conditions that will eventually expire may not offer "the type of long-term certainty necessary to entice new entrants to this nascent marketplace."

"For months we have worked with state and federal regulators to demonstrate New Charter's plan to add tens of thousands of American jobs, expand broadband access to millions of underserved homes, preserve an open internet and offer fast unlimited broadband at a better value without additional modem fees," said Charter. "We are pleased that Netflix and other key stakeholders across the country have recognized that New Charter will be a 'tremendous positive' for the OVD industry and consumers.'"

Charter posted a blog countering some of the issues being raised by critics in the FCC docket, letters and press releases.

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.