U.S. lawmakers air concerns over Comcast-Time Warner Cable deal

Thu May 8, 2014 4:37pm EDT
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By Diane Bartz

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Lawmakers expressed concern about combining the top two U.S. cable operators at a congressional hearing Thursday to discuss Comcast's plan to merge with Time Warner Cable Inc.

While none of the lawmakers asked regulators to block the transaction, both Republicans and Democrats cautioned there were potential negatives in the $45 billion deal.

Representative Blake Farenthold, a Texas Republican, worried that small programmers may not be able to sell video to cable operators. "I don't want to sound hostile to this merger," he said, but noted constituents and interest groups have raised concerns.

Representative John Conyers, a Democratic critic of big mergers in general, said a combined Comcast/Time Warner Cable would have 30 percent of the cable market, at least 40 percent of the broadband market, 19 of the 20 biggest cable markets and a major Spanish-language channel, as well as movies and television shows and sports programming.

"Comcast is a cable company and a programmer. That raises a double concern with me," said Conyers. "I don't know if it's resolvable."

Comcast Executive Vice President David Cohen tried to allay the concerns. "This transaction has the potential to slow the increase in prices. ... Consumers are going to be the big winners," he told a hearing of the House of Representatives' antitrust panel.

A trio of lawmakers pressed Cohen on why the company decided to reduce the number of areas where it showed programming from Rural Media Group, whose founder, Patrick Gottsch, testified.

Representative Doug Collins, a Georgia Republican, said: "A lot of people who move from the farm to the urban area still want to be connected to the farm."   Continued...

A Comcast sign is shown on the entrance to its store in San Francisco, California February 13, 2014. REUTERS/Robert Galbraith