Consumer Groups Are, Predictably, Already Screaming About the Proposed Comcast Purchase of Time Warner Cable. The Question Is, Will the Obama Administration Approve the Deal? Comcast’s Ace in the Hole

Feb 14, 2014  •  Post A Comment

The $45 billion question this Valentine’s Day is whether or not the Obama administration will approve Comcast’s same-sex marriage to Time Warner Cable.

"The companies say they expect to close the merger by the end of the year, but they first will have to survive what is sure to be a brutal regulatory review, and opponents are already pressing the Obama administration to block it entirely," reports the Washington, D.C.-based National Journal.

The story continues, "The Justice Department’s Antitrust Division will examine whether the merger would inappropriately limit competition, while the Federal Communications Commission has a broad mandate to block any deals that aren’t in the public interest."

The article also says: "Consumer-advocacy groups are already organizing their campaign to try to kill the deal.

"’Comcast cannot be allowed to purchase Time Warner Cable. Antitrust authorities and the FCC must stop it,’ John Bergmayer, senior staff attorney for Public Knowledge, said in a statement. He claimed that Comcast, which already owns Universal and NBC, would become a ‘bully in the schoolyard,’ able to dictate terms to other companies and hike prices on consumers. ‘TV viewers, Internet users, and everyone who depends on a well-functioning communications marketplace would not benefit from an even more powerful Comcast,’ Bergmayer said."

The National Journal also notes: "The FCC and the Justice Department declined to comment on the deal Thursday. But Ajit Pai, a Republican FCC commissioner, predicted in December that a Comcast-Time Warner merger would face regulatory opposition. ‘The Obama administration has applied greater scrutiny to proposed mergers and acquisitions,’ Pai told The Wall Street Journal. ‘Precedents like this suggest an outright acquisition by Comcast of Time Warner Cable could face a number of hurdles in the Obama administration.’"

A number of media reports say Comcast can take steps that will appease regulators, such as embracing net neutrality.

Comcast and Time Warner Cable, of course, are bullish on the deal, the National Journal article says: "The two companies argue that their merger would not harm competition because there is no overlap between their systems. ‘We do believe this transaction will bring real pro-consumer benefits. It’s pro-competitive, strongly in the public interest, and we believe approvable,’ Comcast CEO Brian Roberts said on a conference call with reporters."

Finally, the story notes that Comcast may have an ace in the hole that can help ensure the deal’s approval: "Comcast has deep ties to the Obama administration that may prove useful. David Cohen, who oversees Comcast’s lobbying team, was one of Obama’s top bundlers and held a fundraiser for him at his home in Philadelphia in 2011. At the event, Obama thanked Cohen and his wife for being ‘such great friends for so many years.’"

A separate National Journal article reports: "Comcast counts more than 100 lobbyists at its disposal. Among them is Meredith Attwell Baker, a former member of the Federal Communications Commission, who left that post to join Comcast four months after voting to approve a merger between Comcast and NBC Universal in 2011.

"The 2013 combined lobbying outlays of Time Warner and Comcast would rank fourth in the nation — behind only the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Realtors, and Blue Cross Blue Shield."

brian roberts 2.jpgComcast CEO Brian Roberts is bullish on the chances
a Time Warner Cable purchase will be approved

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