Anatomy Of A Comcastrophe: A Look Back At How Comcast Failed To Buy Time Warner Cable For $45B

We were skeptical from the start, but obviously someone at Comcast believed that the company would eventually be allowed to acquire Time Warner Cable for the massive sum of $45 billion. Yet this morning the nation’s largest pay-TV and Internet provider walked away from the mega-merger that would have given it unprecedented market share in both of these industries and control over cable and broadband service for the two largest cities in the U.S. So how did we get here?

Let’s take a look back at the timeline for this multibillion-dollar Comcastrophe:

• Nov. 2013: We hear the first whispers of a merger between Time Warner Cable and other companies, including Charter and Comcast.

• Dec. 2013: When a hookup between Comcast and TWC was still only a rumor, FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai expresses skepticism that such a huge acquisition would ultimately be approved by the current Commission.

• Jan. 13, 2014: Before Comcast publicly proposed to Time Warner Cable, TWC had to give a less-attractive suitor the boot, rejecting a $37.3 billion offer from the backers of Charter Communications. Little did Charter know that Comcast had been quietly wooing new TWC CEO Rob Marcus the whole time.

• Feb. 13, 2014: Comcast officially confirmed its plan to acquire TWC, claiming it would bring better customer service (it couldn’t get worse), more innovation and savings (for the company; not customers). The company was already sniffing out antitrust concerns, hinting that it would consider divesting some of its 20+ million customers in order to make the deal more palatable.

• Feb. 23, 2014: After months of decreasing download speeds for its subscribers as Comcast allowed data to bottleneck, Netflix announces that it has made a deal with Comcast to pay for better and more direct access to Comcast end users. The announcement has the effect of making Comcast look like a passive-aggressive bully and raised questions about the company’s alleged support of net neutrality. This is not what Comcast needs when trying to impress regulators.

• March 7, 2014: Wherein we debunk Comcast’s repeated claims that there is a “highly competitive and dynamic marketplace” for cable and broadband.

• March 20, 2014: An SEC filing about the merger reveals that new TWC CEO Rob Marcus could rake in as much as $79.9 million just for sitting back and letting his company be acquired. Not bad for only a few months on the job.

• March 26, 2014: The first group with a direct financial interest in the merger — the Writers Guild of America — comes out publicly in opposition to the deal.

• March 29, 2014: Comcast CEO Brian Roberts is the subject of a New York Times love letter in which he laments that the non-competitive structure of the cable industry has resulted in his company being shut out of the NYC market. Roberts glosses over the part about how his company has benefited from these regional exclusivity deals and would not have become the nation’s largest pay-TV provider without them.

• April 8, 2014: Comcast officially files merger paperwork with the FCC. In the documents it claims that, in spite of evidence to the contrary, there is plenty of broadband competition out there because people can get data over their phones.

• April 28, 2014: The threesome of Comcast, TWC, and Charter announce their plans to swap franchises in a handful of markets and for about 4 million current Comcast/TWC customers to be spun off into a new company that would be controlled, in part, by Charter.

• May 15, 2014: Comcast Exec VP David Cohen, the mouthpiece of the merger, says that the company expects to have data caps — sorry, data thresholds — in place across its entire footprint within five years.

• June 19, 2014: A national survey from our colleagues at Consumer Reports finds that the majority of Americans oppose the merger.

• July 9, 2014: Dish calls on the FCC to block the merger, saying that there are no conditions that could make it acceptable for the two companies to combine.

• Aug. 22, 2014: We get our first glimpse at the extensive information requests being made by the FCC about this merger. The breadth and scope of these requests are the first real signs that the Commission will not be rubber-stamping this acquisition.

• Aug. 29, 2014: While regulators in D.C. had the ultimate say on the merger, state-level regulators were also involved, especially in California and New York, where millions of people in those states’ two largest markets would be changed over from TWC to Comcast. This story represented the first rumblings that the New York Public Service Commission might push back against Comcast’s entry into the NYC market.

• Sept. 3, 2014: The 4 million Comcast/TWC customers who were to be handed off to a new spun-off company learn that company’s name: GreatLand Connections.

• Sept. 8, 2014: Fearing backlash from Comcast and its NBC Universal properties, many media companies were reluctant to publicly express concerns about the merger. But Discovery chose to put its name on its filing in opposition to the deal.

• Sept. 24, 2014: Comcast says that opposition to the merger is just “extortion;” merger opponents suggest the company look up the definition of this word in the dictionary.

• Oct. 20, 2014: Reports indicate that Dept. of Justice antitrust lawyers are digging “deep in the weeds” in their review of the merger, once again indicating that this will not be a cake walk for Comcast.

• Oct. 24, 2014: Various antitrust experts from around the country bring their concerns about the merger to the FCC.

• Dec. 11, 2014: Pennsylvania’s two U.S. Senators, Pat Toomey and Bob Casey, send a joint letter to FCC Chair Tom Wheeler asking him to hurry up and approve this awesome merger already… without mentioning that the two lawmakers had received a combined $184,000 in contributions from Comcast in their most recent election cycles.

• Dec. 30, 2014: A year-end review of national customer service and satisfaction surveys shows that Comcast and TWC are at the bottom in nearly every single category.

• Jan. 26, 2015: It’s revealed that a number of letters sent to the FCC by local politicians in support of the Comcast merger were actually written (or at least initially drafted) by Comcast.

• Feb. 16, 2015: The California Public Utility Commission recommends a number of conditions for allowing TWC to swap franchises with Comcast and Charter, but Comcast pushes back on anything having to do with improving its heavily criticized Internet Essentials program for low-income households.

• Feb. 17, 2015: Formerly positive analysts downgrade the odds of a successful Comcast/TWC merger, giving it only a 60% chance of approval.

• April 6, 2015: A report shows that much of the public support for the Comcast merger came from groups that received money from Comcast.

• April 10, 2015: California Public Utility Commissioner Mike Florio proposes that the state block TWC from transferring its franchises over to Comcast.

• April 17, 2015: The first reports that antitrust lawyers at the DOJ were leaning toward blocking the merger. To do so, the DOJ would have needed to sue Comcast in federal court.

• April 21, 2015: Six U.S. Senators, including Al Franken (Minnesota) and Elizabeth Warren (Massachusetts), write to FCC Chair Wheeler and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, asking them to put an end to the merger.

• April 22, 2015: The Wall Street Journal reports that the FCC is going to recommend that the merger go before an administrative law judge — a sign of almost certain doom for any acquisition.

• April 23, 2015: Multiple reports claim that, after meetings with both the DOJ and FCC, Comcast will back out of the deal.

• April 24, 2015: The end of the road. Comcast confirms it is canceling the merger plans.

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