Numbers Show That People Care Much More About Comcast/TWC Merger Than AT&T/DirecTV Deal

Last week, the FCC paused its 180-day merger review clock for both Comcast’s acquisition of Time Warner Cable and the merger of AT&T and DirecTV. But a look at the number of comments and filings for these two deals shows that one is getting much more attention than the other.

Reuters did some bean-counting on data available from the FCC about these two mega-mergers and across the board, there seems to be much more concern about the Comcast/TWC deal than there is for the AT&T/DirecTV marriage.

The Comcast/TWC merger has already received some 88,000 comments from the public. Compare that to only 14,000 for the AT&T/DirecTV deal. That’s more than a 6:1 ratio.

The numbers don’t say how people feel about these two pending acquisitions, though you don’t usually hear of consumers and advocates coming out in droves to support a merger.

And it’s not just public feedback that is overwhelmingly unbalanced in favor of the Comcast/TWC merger. Reuters reports that FCC officials have held more than 300 meetings with parties both for and against that deal, while only around 70 such meetings have been held regarding AT&T’s purchase of DirecTV.

This is all in spite of the fact that AT&T is the nation’s second-largest wireless provider and DirecTV has almost as many pay-TV customers as Comcast. In fact, this deal is valued at more than $48 billion, slightly higher than the $45 billion price tag for the sale of TWC.

What appears to be causing this disparity in public interest between the two deals is the effect each would have on the broadband market.

Comcast is already the largest Internet service provider in the country and allowing it to merge with Time Warner Cable would significantly increase its control over the pipelines that deliver data to your home. Whether or not Comcast messes with that data (it promises not to, but the company’s history shows that it loves to push the envelope in this regard), the fact is that many consumers will feel uneasy about a single entity manning the on-ramp to the information superhighway.

Meanwhile, DirecTV does not offer broadband and but AT&T does. And AT&T’s pay-TV footprint is minuscule in comparison to its merger partners. The two companies hope to complement each other by offering a wireless broadband service to DirecTV’s rural customers, whether they live in an area serviced by AT&T or not.

“The customers aren’t anxious, and the competitors aren’t rattled,” former FCC Chairman Reed Hundt tells Reuters. “The FCC or the Justice Department will be looking for markets where this will have an impact, and hardly anyone is telling them that there are such markets.”

The informal review clock for both mergers was slated to run out later this month. With the current pause from the FCC, this process could linger well into the spring before the Commission and/or the DOJ decide whether to approve, restrict, or attempt to block these deals.