Comcast has confirmed reports that the company will be acquiring Time Warner Cable in a deal estimated to be worth around $45 billion. With the ink on their NBC acquisition only just dry to the touch, the deal will tack 8 million broadband subscribers onto the company’s existing 22 million broadband customers. Comcast is already the nation’s largest fixed-line broadband company, largest cable TV provider, and third largest fixed-line phone company — and that’s before you include the company’s NBC or other assets. From a geographical perspective the deal makes sense; Time Warner Cable filling in Comcast’s coverage gaps and in particular giving Comcast the prized markets of Los Angeles and New York City, where Time Warner Cable has traditionally under-performed.
The problem is less of market share (the two companies didn’t compete directly) but one of consolidated power…
Allowing one, massive company to control both the content and the conduit to your home across the vast majority of the country — then just hoping they’ll play nice with smaller competitors, startups and consumers. Never worry, insists Comcast, who states that they’ll divest a few of these markets (most likely to failed Time Warner Cable suitor Charter Communications) so that they won’t be quite as absurdly massive as they might have been.
In a memo (pdf) paving the way for what’s sure to be a tough attempt at regulatory approval, Comcast’s David Cohen trots out Google Fiber as an ambiguous example of why vertical integration and market dominance concerns no longer apply:
“In today’s market, with national telephone and satellite competitors growing substantially, with Google having launched its 1 GB Google Fiber offering in a number of markets across the country, and consumers having more choice of pay TV providers than ever before, Comcast believes that there can be no justification for denying the company the additional scale that will help it compete more effectively.”
Except, well, not. Google Fiber is only available in two actually-deployed markets currently, and despite being a great price-disruptive product in those locations, likely won’t be expanding beyond more than a handful of cities. As for “growing” national telephone competitors, both AT&T and Verizon are in the process of gutting regulations across dozens of states so they can begin hanging up on unwanted DSL and phone customers they don’t want to upgrade. They’re effectively ceding all competition on the fixed-line front in half of their markets so they can focus on wireless, signing co-marketing deals with cable directing those users to what will be their last fixed-line choice for broadband.
That choice is going to be Comcast, and with less competition than ever across huge swaths of the United States, you can be certain the company will be bringing their planned usage caps to your neck of the woods before long — impacting consumers, startups and small businesses across the country. Again, no sweat argues Comcast. In a “public interest benefit summary,” (pdf) Comcast again states you don’t have to worry about any of this, because, well, Google Fiber and Netflix. Or something like that:
“A number of online businesses like Apple, Google, Amazon, Hulu, Netflix, and a host of smaller companies are entering the online video space and trying to position themselves as competitors. While we view online businesses as complementary to our business, previous antitrust concerns about further cable consolidation are truly antiquated in light of today’s marketplace realities.”
Right, because there’s no way that a massive company like Comcast with that kind of lobbying power and market leverage could find it easier than ever to squeeze these companies throughrestrictive content licensing deals, regulatory capture, or usage caps, right? And oh, just a reminder Comcast, you own Hulu, and alongside other broadcast owners have worked hard to ensure it never disrupts the legacy TV apple cart. All in all, Comcast would prefer you not worry your pretty little head about any of this stuff as we wait to see whether new FCC boss Tom Wheeler (formerly a lobbyist for the cable industry) approves Comcast’s latest adorable growth spurt.
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