U.S. lawmakers press Comcast on Time Warner Cable merger

Wed Apr 9, 2014 4:54pm EDT
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By Alina Selyukh and Diane Bartz

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Comcast Corp and Time Warner Cable Inc executives sought to reassure lawmakers on Wednesday that their planned merger would not send cable TV prices skyrocketing but found a fair amount of congressional skepticism.

The Senate Judiciary Committee held the first public hearing on the proposed $45.2 billion merger between the two largest U.S. cable companies, a deal that has raised eyebrows among public interest groups and some lawmakers. Comcast promises that it will benefit consumers without eliminating any choices.

"My concern is that as Comcast continues to get bigger, it will have even more power to exercise its leverage and squeeze consumers," said Senator Al Franken, a Minnesota Democrat who has often opposed media concentration.

"I'm against this deal," Franken added. "I believe this deal will result in fewer choices, higher prices, and even worse service for my constituents."

Lawmakers can be a powerful voice on merger deliberations although they will have no formal role in deciding whether the Comcast deal gets the green light from the Justice Department, which ensures the merger complies with antitrust law, and the Federal Communications Commission, which has a broader public-interest standard.

In a bid to make the merger more palatable, Comcast has pledged to divest 3 million subscribers, keeping the combined company's customer base just under 30 percent of the U.S. pay television market. The merged company would also serve between 20 percent and 40 percent of the high-speed Internet market, Comcast said in a filing on Tuesday with the FCC.

"If this transaction is approved, it will give us the scale and reach to innovate and compete against our national and global competitors. ... The transaction will not lead to any reduction in competition or consumer choice in any market," Comcast Executive Vice President David Cohen told lawmakers.

"There is nothing in this transaction will cause anyone's cable bills to go up," Cohen said, reiterating that the two merging companies do not compete against each other anywhere.   Continued...

The Time Warner Cable logo is displayed on the back of a van in New York February 13, 2014. REUTERS/Joshua Lott