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What you need to know for 01/22/2017

Cable merger closely scrutinized

Cable merger closely scrutinized

I’ve got a bad case of MEGO — my eyes glaze over — after reading through the state’s online file on

I’ve got a bad case of MEGO — my eyes glaze over — after reading through the state’s online file on the proposed merger of Comcast Corp. and Time Warner Cable.

The two companies, already behemoth providers of cable, Internet and telephone services, would bulk up to some 30 million subscribers nationwide under the deal.

Technically, Time Warner would become a wholly owned subsidiary of Comcast through a $45 billion stock acquisition. The plan, announced in February, is running a gauntlet of state and federal regulators, including the Federal Communications Commission and the U.S. Justice Department.

In New York, where Time Warner dominates, the state Public Service Commission expects to take up the merger at its Oct. 2 meeting. The agency was given new authority this year to investigate whether such a combination is in the public interest — that is, that its benefits outweigh any potential for harm.

As part of its timeline to October, the PSC held three informational hearings across the state in June, and then set last Friday as the deadline for initial public comment on the merger. That’s about when my eyes began to glaze over as I combed through the submissions filed.

It’s not that the comments are yawn-inducing; rather, it’s the abundance of claims and criticism and numbers and comparisons that overwhelms.

For instance, does Comcast really conspire to eliminate some of the most popular TV networks from its lower-cost packages so customers are forced to pick a more costly option? That’s one contention in the comments from Stop the Cap!, a Rochester nonprofit organized to fight the imposition of data limits on broadband use. It opposes the merger.

And will standalone cable, Internet or phone service be a thing of the past? That’s a claim from Common Cause New York, which says Comcast has a “stated corporate plan to aggressively push bundled products.” It, too, opposes the merger.

The staff of the Department of Public Service, the agency arm of the PSC, submitted 49 pages of analysis Friday that suggest the merger could pass muster — if certain cited “conditions” are met. For example, the staff analysis noted the poor customer-service reputations of both Time Warner and Comcast in industry surveys (and in complaints filed with the PSC). As a condition of approval, the PSC could set service benchmarks that must be met or else fines will be assessed, the analysis proposes.

It also suggests that rather than lose Time Warner’s lower priced standalone broadband service, the companies bring together the best of their programs to ensure high-speed Internet access to low-income customers and invest $45 million in the effort.

If I were to make a wager on the companies’ combination, I’d say it appears inevitable.

But in taking a carrot-and-stick approach to the merger, the PSC could, indeed, encourage a deal that might prove to be in the public’s interest.

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