Consumer Advocates Say There Are No Conditions That Would Make Comcast, Time Warner Cable Merger Acceptable

Comcast-TWCLogoComcast representatives are reportedly meeting with regulators today to discuss the status of the cable colossus’s pending $45 billion acquisition of Time Warner Cable. While some reports claim that antitrust lawyers at the Dept. of Justice are leaning toward suing to block the merger, others believe that the DOJ and FCC will attempt to put conditions on the deal in order to approve it. But consumer advocacy groups say that there are no conditions that would make this merger palatable.

“You can’t fix this merger with conditions,” says Delara Derakhshani, our colleague and policy counsel for Consumers Union. “The size and influence of Comcast would be so huge that no amount of promises or commitments could outweigh the harm to consumers. This merger would give Comcast more control than ever before over what we see on TV and online, and how much we pay for it.”

Consumers Union points out what most Consumerist readers already know — that Comcast and Time Warner Cable have consistently demonstrated some of the worst customer service around, not just for cable/Internet providers, but for all retail-facing U.S. companies.

“You have two companies with notoriously bad reputations for customer service, looking to become one company that will have even less incentive to address these deep, long-standing problems,” says Derakhshani. “Even if Comcast comes to the table with more promises to do better, we know millions of consumers would be hit with higher prices, fewer choices, and even worse service.”

Other advocates criticize Comcast’s Internet Essentials program, which gets the company lots of good press and great photos of company execs shaking hands with mayors and other civic leaders, but which may not be living up to its promise to deliver affordable Internet access to low-income Americans.

“According to Comcast’s own reports, in the four years since its rollout, the Internet Essentials program has only enrolled 13.4% of the estimated 2.6 million households that are eligible for the program nationally,” said John Bergmayer, senior staff attorney at Public Knowledge. “This remarkably low enrollment rate suggests that Internet Essentials is far from the success story Comcast touts in the press and on Capitol Hill.”

The Stop Mega Comcast Coalition — whose members include both Consumers Union and Public Knowledge — points to a number of Comcast’s shortcomings in the wake of its heavily conditioned 2010 acquisition of NBC Universal.

It notes that Comcast still won’t allow its customers to access HBO Go service on Playstation devices while all other major pay-TV providers have done so.

In spite of a condition requiring that Comcast keep similarly themed channels in the same “neighborhoods” rather than scatter new competitors to far-flung areas of the channel listings, the company waged a 3-year legal battle to keep Bloomberg away from news stations (like Comcast-owned MSNBC and CNBC).

Comcast also publicly claims to be a supporter of net neutrality but passive-aggressively allowed Netflix traffic to bottleneck until the company had to pay for better access to Comcast end-users. At the same time, it doesn’t want any of its streamed content to count against customers’ data caps.

“While Comcast has defied numerous conditions of its merger with NBCUniversal, Internet Essentials represents a marquee failure on the part of the cable giant to live up to its commitment to the FCC and the general public,” said Bergmayer. “Conditions haven’t worked in the past and they won’t work here.”

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