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New York Regulators Again Delay Final Decision on Comcast-Time Warner Merger

Stop the Cap! has learned the New York State Public Service Commission has again delayed its final decision on the merger of Comcast and Time Warner Cable.

The latest deadline the PSC will pass is Nov. 19, and the new deadline, accepted by both cable operators, is Dec. 31, 2014.

Sources tell us the multiple delays come as a result of regulators underestimating the complexity of the transaction and its potential impact on New York residents.

There is also an ongoing legal dispute over the possible public release of information both cable companies argue is proprietary and confidential. Public interest groups argue otherwise and consider details about current broadband subscriptions, future expansion plans, and the possible fate of Time Warner Cable’s $14.99 low price Internet plan worth sharing with New York residents.

Time Warner Cable Boosting Basic Broadband Speed from 3 to 6Mbps

Time Warner Cable is in the process of upgrading “Basic” broadband tier ($30-40 a month) customers from 3 to 6/1Mbps at no extra charge. You may have the upgraded speeds even if you haven’t received e-mail from Time Warner Cable yet. Follow the instructions below and check your speed:

basic speed

(Image courtesy: Rachel Barnhart)

A merger with Comcast will see Time Warner Cable customers forced to downgrade back to 3Mbps for Comcast’s basic “Economy Plus” service ($39.95/mo) or pay a higher Internet bill for Comcast’s 6Mbps Performance Starter plan ($49.95/mo). An $8 a month modem rental fee also applies, likely to rise to $10 by early 2015.

The Menace of the Unburied Line: Cable & Phone Companies Create Hazards for Homeowners

One Alabama customer found her fence the home of not one, but two artistically-managed Charter Cable lines serving her neighbors.

One Alabama customer found her fence the home of not one, but two artistically-Amanaged Charter Cable lines serving her neighbors.

All across the country, people are encountering communications wiring that belongs underground or on a utility pole, but is instead scattered on the ground or left dangling on fences or in the street. Isolated incidents or a consequence of deregulation that has left community leaders’ hands tied? Stop the Cap! investigates.

A Louisiana woman eight months pregnant is suing Cox Communications Louisiana and its contractor after tripping over an exposed cable wire in her mother’s backyard the company didn’t bother to bury.

In Fort Myers, Comcast connected a neighbor’s cable service in a senior living community by scattering a cable across lawns and sidewalks for nearly a year before finally burying it.

In Alabama, Charter Cable turned cable wiring into an art form, attaching multiple homeowners’ cable TV wires in artistic designs to a neighbor’s fence, and he wasn’t even a customer.

Welcome to the scourge of the unburied, exposed cable wire. Typically called a “drop” by cable installers, these lines are common in communities where a cable or phone company uses a third-party contractor to manage buried lines. Some manage them better than others.

In the northern United States, replacement drops installed during the winter months often stay on the ground until spring because the ground in frozen, but in warmer climates in the southeast, cable companies are notorious for “forgetting” about orphaned cable lines that can take weeks or months to bury, often only after intervention by a local media outlet or politician.

Chardae Nickae Melancon’s complaint claims Cox installed cable service in June, 2013 and left the cable wire exposed in the backyard. In late August, Melancon claims she tripped and fell over the wire injuring her arm, right side, and other unspecified injuries. Her suit alleges Cox was warned the wire was installed improperly and only after her injury did Cox return to finish the job.

In Fort Myers, it took more than 11 months for Comcast to return and bury its line, snaked across lawns and sidewalks connecting several buildings in the retirement community.

Comcast left this cable lying across a sidewalk in a retirement community in Fort Myers, Fla. for 11 months.

Comcast left this cable lying across a sidewalk in a retirement community in Fort Myers, Fla. for 11 months.

“You know this [community] is 55 and older. We have got people in here that are 90 years old,” Bonnie Haines, a resident in the Pine Ridge Condo retirement community told WFTX-TV. “Could you imagine them walking or walking around that sidewalk and tripping over this, what would happen? They couldn’t see it at night. Fortunately for me I know it’s there. I’ve lived with it all this time but if somebody would come to visit an older person or something, they don’t know it’s there.”

Across the street lies another unburied Comcast cable.

“We’ve called multiple times. we’ve reported it multiple times,” said Eric Ray, the manager of the Pine Ridge Homeowners Association. “In fact, every time I see a Comcast truck in here I personally grab the driver, take him over to the spot, and he puts in a work order and takes pictures right in front of me and still no response.”

Comcast’s last reply before making the evening news:  “We’ll get to it soon.”

Twenty four hours after being a featured story on the station’s newscast, the cables were finally buried.

In Montgomery, Ala., an artistic cable installer has used one resident’s fence as the adopted home of Charter Cable’s lines. Jamie Newton, who isn’t a Charter customer, noticed an orange Charter Cable line attached to her fence one day after returning home. That was two years ago. Suddenly, an extra cable appeared, draped like Christmas tree garland.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/WFTX Ft Myers Residents worried about exposed cable tv wire 1-15-14.mp4

Residents of a Ft. Myers, Fla. retirement community worry residents as old as 93 could be seriously injured if they trip over this Comcast Cable left on the sidewalk for at least 11 months. (3:00)

“At first I was surprised, and then it turned into a little bit of anger and frustration,” Newton told WSFA. “I have small children, I have friends’ children over, and the neighborhood kids come and play in my backyard. It’s not safe.”

Charter Cable is not interested because Newton is not a customer. Charter in fact recorded just one complaint from a Charter customer six months earlier, and they claimed a “glitch” was responsible for the cable not being buried.

(Image: WEWS-TV Cleveland)

(Image: WEWS-TV Cleveland)

While some customers have been encouraged to remove offending lines that cross property lines themselves, some have gotten into trouble doing so, charged with destruction of private property. The most common mistake homeowners make is cutting or displacing cables placed on or in a utility easement, which can be difficult to identify.

Some of the worst problems occur with cables that served now ex-customers. Residents complain AT&T, Comcast and Charter are not responsive to requests from non-customers to deal with abandoned wiring in disrepair. An outside line supervisor in San Francisco tells Stop the Cap! AT&T has few provisions to manage cabling no longer in service for a paying customers.

The city of Cleveland, Ohio is a prime example of how AT&T deals with unused cables. Residents reports dozens of abandoned lines snipped at head level and allowed to dangle off utility poles, eventually to fall to street level where children can handle them. Time Warner Cable was also accused of allowing cables to hang over Cleveland streets. Some are left over after demolishing vacant houses but the most frequent cause of hazardous cables is competition. When a customer cuts cable’s cord, drops a landline, or flips between providers, installation crews often cut and leave old lines swaying in the breeze or draped over sidewalks.

The problem grew so pervasive in Cleveland, city officials requested telecom companies coordinate an audit of their cable networks and remove dangerous wiring before someone gets hurt. But all they can do is ask. Ohio’s sweeping telecom deregulation law stripped local authority over AT&T and Time Warner Cable. The city’s leverage is now based on creative code enforcement and embarrassing the companies in the local media.

“We don’t have any regulation for phone and cable companies and hanging wires create a hazardous situation and it’s going to have to be regulated,” said Cleveland councilman Tony Brancatelli. “One of these times it’s going to be a hot line.”

Local media reported nearly the same problem four years earlier in Cleveland, and efforts to keep up with cables left in disrepair seem to wane after the media spotlight moves on.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/WEWS Cleveland Neighbors worry kids will get desensitized to seeing low wires 4-3-14.mp4

Kids are at risk if they begin to disrespect hanging utility wires. An epidemic of abandoned cable and telephone cables are dangling over Cleveland streets and deregulation means cities have to ask providers nicely to deal with the problem. (3:00)

Time Warner Cable and AT&T have also pointed fingers at each other, implying the other is more responsible for the cables left hanging:

AT&T: “We certainly welcome attention on the topic of safety and any telephone wires that look out of place. To that end, we encourage you to share with your viewers the number for our statewide repair information line: 800-572-4545. Please do call this line to report locations of telephone wires that look out of place.  While your story pointed out that many of the problem lines you saw may not have been telephone lines, we look forward to removing or repairing any that we find, that indeed belong to our company.”

Time Warner Cable: “Maintaining line clearance is something we act quickly to correct anytime we identify a potential issue. Though it is not clear who owns the wires you cite in your story, when our lines need to be adjusted, we take immediate action.  If someone comes across a line they feel maybe too low, please call us and we will respond.”

One important tip from Stop the Cap! for both your safety and avoiding legal entanglements — don’t take on the job yourself.

Municipal officials tell us readers should call a local code enforcement officer and have them investigate utility cable issues. Unresponsive companies or those creating dangerous conditions for the public can be fined and most will respond quickly to an officer’s request to manage the problem, even when deregulated.

Customers allowing the cable company to install a temporary line in their own yard should check if they are signing a total liability waiver as part of the process. Doing so can limit your leverage if the cable company doesn’t return to bury the line.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/WEWS City of Cleveland promises to address low hanging wires 4-7-14.mp4

WEWS-TV in Cleveland followed up on their earlier report after getting no response from cable and phone companies and finding even more hazardous, abandoned wiring littering Cleveland. (3:15)

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/WEWS Cleveland Major utility and cable companies meet with City of Cleveland 4-17-14.mp4

Cleveland officials asked cable and phone companies to send representatives to coordinate action to fix the problem, but deregulation makes the effort voluntary. (2:47)

Third Party Contractors Sue Comcast In Race to the Bottom for Wages, Business Contracts

Cable Line LogoComcast’s dependence on third-party contractors to support its cable plant and handle certain service calls has made a few companies very rich while putting several others into bankruptcy.

In March, Cable Line, Inc., and McLaughlin Communications filed suit against the cable company in Philadelphia Common Pleas Court for putting them out of business after being compelled “to start and finance work in new markets, only to abandon [both] firms once they had been induced to create the infrastructure necessary for Comcast’s expansion.”

Attorney Charles Mandracchia alleges both companies were sold on Comcast’s commitments and hired and trained scores of workers, opened new facilities and borrowed heavily to finance purchases of trucks and equipment only to face what the suit calls an arbitrary cancellation of both companies’ contracts while their workforce was hired away by firms favored by Comcast.

“This is about more than my company,” Cable Line owner Kevin Diehl told the Philadelphia Inquirer. “‘Scale up or die,’ they told us. I bought a Harrisburg warehouse and a Perkasie office,” and built his staff up to 120 workers.

Comcast’s dependence on Diehl’s firm was so strong, the cable company enforced a no-compete clause in Cable Line’s contract to block a lucrative acquisition offer from another company in the early 2000s.

Things changed dramatically in 2012 when Comcast suddenly canceled its contract and gave Cable Line’s business to larger firms that recruited away his trained workforce. Cable Line went out of business shortly afterwards. McLaughlin makes similar claims.

“Comcast clearly had a decided intent and plan to eliminate small companies like Cable Line and McLaughlin Communications in order to monopolize the market, and in fact it did precisely that,” according to the lawsuit.

installerAllegations of corruption were included in a similar federal lawsuit filed by an Illinois-based cable installer, Frontline Communications, that claimed top Comcast officials “accepted cash, gifts and other benefits” in exchange for awarding installation contracts to favored firms. That case was dismissed on a technicality and has yet to be refiled.

A handful of firms favored by Comcast have done well as favored partners. Dycom, a Florida-based telecommunications installer with a nationwide footprint has acquired a number of smaller competitors over the last three years and disclosed to the Securities & Exchange Commission that just three companies — AT&T, CenturyLink and Comcast account for 39% of its business. If Comcast and Time Warner Cable win merger approval, that number will increase to above 50%.

With consolidation of third-party cable contractors continuing, workers have seen dramatic compensation cuts. Installers working for Dyson-acquired Prince Telecommunications accuse the company of cutting their labor rate in half. Others complain contractors force them to buy their own tools, under-compensate for fuel and don’t pay workers when they arrive to find subscribers not at home to accept a service call.

“This consolidation across the country is very bad for skilled cable technicians, who now have very few choices of employment,” Diehl told the newspaper, warning that installers working for Time Warner Cable will see even more dramatic compensation and benefits cuts “as Comcast gobbles them up.”

Diehl told the newspaper he personally helped build Comcast’s cable system in the Philadelphia suburbs and calls it “obsolete.”

“It should be fully fiber. It should have a bigger power supply, like FiOS,” Diehl said. “That’s why your TV sometimes doesn’t work after a storm.”

Earlier this week, UniTek Global Services Inc., a Blue Bell company that employs 3,200 people installing DirecTV, ATT, Comcast and other TV and Internet systems, filed for Chapter 11 reorganization in federal bankruptcy court in Wilmington, Del. The company is seeking a “comprehensive debt restructuring” after trying to diversify its business portfolio beyond its major clients, including Comcast.

GreatLand Connections Has Few Employees, No Building; Yet Wants to Serve 2.5 Million Subscribers

greatlandGreatLand Connections, a new cable company with no headquarters building and only a handful of employees, is seeking permission to serve 2.5 million ex-Comcast/Time Warner Cable customers while saddled with $7.8 billion in debt the day its opens for business.

The entity, now administered primarily by a small executive team, will trade on the NASDAQ exchange under the symbol ‘GLCI’ and would start operations in 2015. Tidbits about the planned cable operator were included in a regulatory filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, primarily concerning how shareholders and executives will be handled if the merger is approved.

GreatLand Connections was created to appease the U.S. Justice Department and Federal Communications Commission that earlier expressed concern about any single cable operator exceeding 30 percent of the national cable television market. Spinning off 2.5 million customers in less desirable service areas keeps Comcast’s market share just under 30%, but the SEC filing reveals Comcast isn’t exactly kicking customers out in the cold and disinheriting them. Comcast shareholders will own and control 67% of GreatLand Connections. Comcast will also select six of the nine members of the Board of Directors at GreatLand, and the SEC filing includes an admission to shareholders that a conflict of interest could exist between certain executives and board members who have investments in both cable companies.

The new company’s large debt load — about five times the company’s estimated earnings before interest, depreciation, taxes, and certain other expenses, is designed to shield Comcast from having to pay taxes on the spinoff. GreatLand’s filing states the transfer deal and spin-up of its company will qualify as a tax-free reorganization transaction.

The initial debt load is considerably higher than what most other cable companies carry, which makes it likely subscribers will be asked to help pay it off in the form of higher rates for years to come.

Even without a single piece of office furniture in place, GreatLand could begin serving as one of the nation’s largest cable companies with an estimated value of $5.7 billion in less than a year.

(Clarification: This article was updated to reflect Comcast shareholders will own 67% of GreatLand after the transaction closes.)

Time Warner Cable Maxx Customers in LA Are Being Offered Free Cable Modems

Phillip Dampier November 4, 2014 Broadband Speed, Consumer News, Time Warner Cable 1 Comment

twcmaxTime Warner Cable broadband customers in Los Angeles still using older cable modems are being offered replacement modems from the cable company for free, avoiding Time Warner Cable’s $6 monthly modem rental fee.

The Los Angeles Times notes some customers are receiving letters offering a free modem upgrade, but the company won’t say exactly how many subscribers have been offered a way out of the company’s modem rental fee.

A survey of Los Angeles residents suggests Time Warner is primarily targeting customers still using older DOCSIS 2 or basic DOCSIS 3 modems that are not capable of getting the full benefit of Time Warner Cable’s Maxx speed upgrades, which provides up to 300Mbps service for the same price the rest of the country pays for 50Mbps.

Customers taking advantage of the offer are expected to swap out their existing modem themselves, using an “Easy Install Kit” mailed by Time Warner. They will need to contact the cable company to activate their replacement modem.

The replacement is a basic, yet fully capable DOCSIS 3 modem without built-in Wi-Fi. Customers who don’t use a router with built-in Wi-Fi can upgrade to Time Warner’s Wi-Fi capable modem, but it will cost around $11 a month for the service. Stop the Cap! recommends customers buy their own router with built-in Wi-Fi, which is almost always a better deal than renting equipment from Time Warner.

There is no word if a similar offer will be made to customers in other Maxx cities, New York and Austin.

Time Warner Cable Recommits: No Mandatory Usage Caps As Long As Company Remains Independent

timewarner twcTime Warner Cable today recommitted itself to providing unlimited broadband service to any customer that wants it, promising customers they won’t be forced into a tiered usage plan as long as Time Warner Cable remains an independent company.

“We have no intention of abandoning an unlimited product we think that something that customers value and are willing to pay for,” said Time Warner Cable CEO Robert Marcus. “The way we’ve approached usage-based pricing is to offer it as an option for customers who prefer to pay less because they tend to use less. And we’ve made those available at 5 gigabytes per month and 30 gigabytes per month levels.”

Marcus told Wall Street analysts on an afternoon conference call that the average Time Warner Cable customer now generates 35GB of traffic per month, and that a significant percentage of light users might realize some savings choosing a 30GB optional usage plan. But Marcus also admitted that few do.

marcus

Marcus

“I think that’s a testament to the value they place on unlimited,” said Marcus.

Marcus’ decision to stay away from compulsory usage-capped Internet was questioned by Marci Ryvicker from Wells Fargo Securities, LLC., a Wall Street investment firm. Ryvicker tied the growth of online video consumption to the implementation of usage caps as way of protecting video revenue and regaining money lost from lost cable television subscriptions.

“I guess the underlying question is do you think you can monetize the pipe enough through high-speed data pricing to offset video decline,” asked Ryvicker.

“We haven’t really viewed usage-based pricing quite the way you’re postulating,” responded Marcus. “I think there’s a separate question as to whether or not we have the ability to offset video declines with [broadband]. I think it’s fair to say we’re very bullish on the high-speed data business and think we can continue to grow it based on both subscriber volume and incremental ARPU per [broadband] customer.”

Marcus added that Time Warner can continue to boost revenue by raising broadband prices and encouraging customers to upgrade to faster speed tiers at a higher price.

Comcast has a very different philosophy about usage caps — it embraces them. Comcast continues to test mandatory usage caps in several markets, leading to howls of complaints from customers and bill shock. One customer complained their cable bill frightens them every time they receive it, not knowing how much Comcast would charge them for that month of service. The family’s last cable bill, including Internet, exceeded $560, primarily due to Comcast’s overlimit usage fees. Comcast has also received complaints about its usage meter’s accuracy, but the company adamantly bills customers according to the readings of their meter.

“I’ll tell you what really isn’t fair,” wrote one customer. “That is that in ‘test markets’ like mine, Atlanta, we have the 300GB [cap] enforced with the penalty overage charge and we pay the SAME rates as people in other markets that aren’t yet one of the ‘test markets.’

Most analysts expect Comcast will eventually roll out usage caps to all of its customers, including any it acquires from Time Warner Cable. Customers cannot choose an unlimited use option in Comcast’s usage cap test markets.

Time Warner Cable Unveils $26/Mo 6-Tuner, 1TB DVR in Los Angeles, New York Maxx Markets

Phillip Dampier October 21, 2014 Competition, Consumer News, Time Warner Cable 4 Comments
TWC enhanced DVR 400x300

Arris DCX 3600 enhanced DVR for Time Warner Cable Maxx customers

Time Warner Cable’s enhanced DVR is here, at an enhanced price starting at $26/month.

Time Warner customers have long waited for an upgraded DVR capable of storing and recording more shows, and the Arris DCX 3600 is the result.

Available soon in Los Angeles and New York (and later in other TWC Maxx-upgraded markets), the enhanced DVR includes six tuners and 1TB of storage, enough to keep around 150 hours of HD programming.

The DVR includes QAM/RF-capability and a DOCSIS 3 modem built into the box. Time Warner Cable has set the monthly price for the box at $15.99 for single room DVR service, $19.99 a month for whole-house DVR service. An additional equipment rental fee also applies: $10.25/mo for the box and remote control, $11.75/mo if you are subject to Time Warner’s “additional outlet service fee.” That means customers will pay up to $31.74 a month for the DVR alone. Customers who subscribe to a bundled service package will likely pay significantly lower rates for the enhanced DVR.

Time Warner arrives very late to the DVR competition wars. Its current boxes can usually record only up to two shows at once and storage space, usually enough for 80 hours, may require customers to clear out older shows to make room for new ones.

Time Warner’s competitors are still able to beat Time Warner’s new DVR:

  • AT&T U-verse comes closest to Time Warner, offering a four tuner DVR that can store up to 422 hours of SD programming, 155 hours in HD;
  • Comcast is testing its new X1 video platform that can record 15 programs at the same time by linking together multiple HD-DVRs;
  • Dish Network’s Hopper HD-DVR can record eight shows at once, and DirecTV’s Genie can manage five recordings at the same time;
  • Verizon FiOS Quantum TV customers can record a maximum of 12 shows at once and its DVR package offers 2TB of storage.

The new equipment should be available in New York and Los Angeles by the end of this month and will gradually be introduced in other TWC Maxx cities planned for upgrades: Charlotte, N.C., Dallas, Tex., Hawaii, Raleigh, N.C., San Antonio, Tex., and San Diego. No word on when the new boxes will be available in Austin, Tex., where upgrades are already underway.

Customers in other Time Warner Cable cities will have to make do with older DVRs until either Time Warner schedules Maxx upgrades or Comcast succeeds in buying Time Warner.

The Capitol Forum’s Insightful Review of the Comcast-Time Warner Merger Deal: A Tough Sell

be mineWall Street is increasingly pessimistic about Comcast and Time Warner Cable pulling off their merger deal as regulators stop the clock to take a closer look at the transaction.

The Capitol Forum, an in-depth news and analysis service dedicated to informing policymakers, investors, and industry stakeholders on how policy affects market competition, specializes in examining marketplace mergers and their potential impact on American consumers and the general economy. The group has shared a copy of their assessment — “Comcast/Time Warner Cable: A Closer Look at FCC, DOJ Decision Processes; Merits and Politics May Drive Merger Challenge, Especially as Wheeler Unlikely to Embrace Title II Regulation for Net Neutrality” — with Stop the Cap! and we’re sharing a summary of the report with our readers.

The two most important government agencies reviewing the merger proposal are the Federal Communications Commission and the Department of Justice. The FCC is responsible for overseeing telecommunications in the United States and is also tasked with reviewing telecom industry mergers to verify if they are in the public interest. The Department of Justice becomes involved in big mergers as well, concerned with compliance with antitrust and other laws.

In many instances, the two agencies work separately and independently to review merger proposals, but not so with Comcast and Time Warner Cable.

Sources tell Capitol Forum there is a high level of coordination and information sharing between DOJ and the FCC, potentially positioning the two agencies in a stronger legal position if they jointly challenge the merger. Readers may recall AT&T’s attempt to buy T-Mobile was thwarted in 2011 when the FCC followed the DOJ’s lead in jointly challenging the merger on competition and antitrust grounds. With a united front against the deal in Washington, AT&T quickly capitulated.

comcast cartoonDespite a blizzard of Comcast talking points claiming the cable industry is fiercely competitive, Capitol Forum’s report indicates the DOJ staff level believes the cable industry suffers dearly from a lack of competition already, and allowing further marketplace concentration would exacerbate an already difficult problem.

Capitol Forum reports the DOJ’s staff is inclined to “take an aggressive posture with regards to [antitrust] enforcement.”

The DOJ would certainly not be walking the beltway plank to its political doom if it ultimately decides to oppose the merger.

Few on Capitol Hill are likely to fiercely advocate for a cable company generally despised by their constituents. The Capitol Forum report notes that Comcast faces powerful opposition and its political support is overstated. Comcast’s lobbying efforts and ties to President Obama and several high level Democrats have also been widely exposed in the media, which makes it more difficult for D.C.’s powerful to be seen carrying Comcast’s water.

In fact, the report indicates a regulatory challenge against Comcast and Time Warner Cable would face considerably less political opposition than what the FCC faces if it reclassifies broadband as a “telecommunications service,” protecting Net Neutrality and exposing the industry to stronger regulatory oversight.

The report suggests FCC Chairman Thomas Wheeler, who seems intent on opposing reclassification of broadband under Title II, may appease his critics by taking a stronger stance on the Comcast/Time Warner deal instead.

Wheeler has already expressed concern about the state of competitiveness of American broadband. He considers providers capable of delivering at least 25Mbps part of broadband’s key market, which in many communities means a monopoly for the local cable operator.

Understanding “The Public Interest” and the Implications of a Combined Comcast/Time Warner Cable on Competition

comcastbuy_400_241The FCC will review the transaction pursuant to Sections 214 and 310(d) of the Communications Act of 1934, in order to ensure that “public interest, convenience, and necessity will be served thereby.”

The merger proposal must also demonstrate it does not violate antitrust laws.

It is here that merger opponents have a wealth of arguments to use against Comcast and Time Warner Cable.

Despite Comcast’s insistence the deal would have no competitive implications, the Capitol Forum reports the merger’s potential anticompetitive effects are “widely recognized and evidence from the investigation could provide DOJ and FCC with a solid foundation to challenge the merger.”

Although the two cable companies don’t directly compete with each other (itself a warning sign of an already noncompetitive marketplace), the report finds “a wide array of anti-competitive effects and several antitrust theories” that would implicate the cable company in a Clayton Act violation.

Comcast is betting heavily on its surface argument that by the very fact customers will not see any change in the number of competitors delivering service to their area, the merger should easily clear any antitrust hurdles. That argument makes it more difficult for the DOJ to fall back on the usual market concentration precedents that would prevent such a colossal merger deal. To argue excessive horizontal integration — the enlarging of Comcast’s territory — the DOJ would first have to prove Comcast’s size in comparison with other cable companies is a reason for the courts to shoot down the deal. Or it could bypass Comcast’s favorite argument and move to the issue of vertical integration — one company’s ability to control not just the pipes that deliver content, but also the content itself.

octopusHere the examples of potential abuse are plentiful:

  • Comcast would enjoy increased power to force cable programmers to favor Comcast in cable programming pricing and policies while allowing it to demand restrictions on competitive online video competitors or restrict access to popular cable programming;
  • Comcast could impose data caps and usage-based pricing to deter online viewing while exempting its own content by delivering it over a Wi-Fi enabled gateway, game console or set top box, claiming all are unrelated to Comcast’s broadband Internet service or network;
  • Force consumers to use Comcast set top boxes that would not support competing providers’ online video;
  • Use interconnection agreements as a clever way to bypass the paid prioritization Net Neutrality debate. Netflix and other content producers would be forced to compensate Comcast for reliable access to its broadband customers;
  • Noting AT&T has declared U-verse can not effectively succeed in the cable television business without combining its customer base with DirecTV to qualify for better volume discounts, there is clear evidence that a super-sized Comcast could command discounts new entrants like Google Fiber could never hope to get, putting them at a distinct price disadvantage.

The FCC’s scrutiny of Comcast’s merger deal has already uncovered evidence previously unavailable because of non-disclosure agreements which show Comcast’s heavy hand already at work.

The report notes Michael Mooney, a senior vice president and group general counsel at Level 3, told the Capitol Forum the dispute earlier this year between Netflix and Comcast could have been resolved in about five minutes had Comcast added a port to relieve congestion at an interconnection point. The cost? Just $5,000. Had Comcast been willing to spend the money, millions of Comcast customers would have never experienced problems using Netflix.

Whether Comcast is ultimately deemed too large to permit another consolidating merger or whether it is given conditional approval to absorb Time Warner Cable remains a close call, according to the Capitol Forum, despite the fact consumers have urged regulators for something slightly more concrete – a single sentence, total denial of its application.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Capitol Forum The Consumer Welfare Test.mp4

The Capitol Forum broadly explores how the “consumer welfare standard” has become a part of the antitrust review process over the last 30 years. Sometimes, a strict antitrust test is not sufficient to protect “the public interest” of consumers, and allows the dominant player(s) to harm competition. In the digital economy, corporate mergers that empower companies to restrict innovation can prove far more damaging than classic monopoly abuse. (15:52)

New York Public Service Commission Refuses to Release Notes from Private Meetings With Comcast

ny pscSeven staff members from the New York’s Public Service Commission privately met with representatives of Comcast and Time Warner Cable on April 10, April 24, and May 8, 2014 and the regulator is refusing to disclose exactly what was discussed.

Despite repeated requests from Common Cause NY, the PSC has been less than completely forthcoming releasing:

  • Documents provided at the meetings by representatives of Comcast and Time Warner;
  • Documents provided to Comcast or Time Warner representatives by the Department of Public Service;
  • Minutes of the meetings;
  • Notes taken by public officials or their staff in attendance.

NY PSC Secretary Kathleen Burgess did indicate “no documents were provided to or received from DPS staff, Comcast or Time Warner at the aforementioned meetings,” adding “no other records responsive to your request could be found in the possession of the department.”

That might have been the end of it had we not discovered that staff members created 31 pages of handwritten and typed impressions of the presentations offered by the two cable companies — vital clues about precisely what was discussed behind closed doors.

Despite a confirmation from Secretary Burgess that these notes do, in fact, exist, she has refused all requests to release them to the public.

“Because they are deliberative rather than ‘statistical or factual tabulations or data,’ they are not subject to disclosure under the intra agency exemption,” Burgess declared. “Accordingly, I deny your appeal.”

The public was not allowed to attend the meetings, one of which was attended by Public Service Commission chairwoman Audrey Zibelman and Commissioner Gregg Sayre. On April 10, they met with executives from the two cable companies, according to public schedules. They were joined by Allison Lee, a lobbyist for the firm representing Time Warner Cable and Tom Congdon, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Assistant Secretary for Energy. What was discussed has been kept secret to this day.

Time Warner Cable’s presence is well-felt in Albany. The cable operator is one of the state’s top lobbyists, spending nearly $500,000 on New York politicians in 2013 alone. Both Time Warner and Comcast have donated a combined $200,000 to Gov. Cuomo’s campaign accounts.

New York has put Comcast’s merger application on hold until November. Last week more than 99 percent of shares held by stockholders of both cable companies were voted in favor of the deal.

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  • Rebecka Basey: Honestly with phones, laptops, tablets the 1.5 is crap i find myself using my lte from phone provider at home so the 1.5dsl available to rest of famil...
  • Bill: @Joe V - If you have Att Uverse like I did you may have an alternative. Even If its regular dsl you should check out DSL extreme. Phillip wrote an a...
  • Limboaz: While arbitrary usage caps, crappy service and overcharging are bad, the bigger issue to deal with is the crony capitalism and corruption that lets co...
  • Write about this: I went out and bought a new doc sis 3 compatible modem...now they are still trying to charge me the 10 dollar fee and my account is showing two modems...
  • Joe V: You forgot to mention Phil that Comcast as horrible as they are, there's another telecom giant just as bad : AT&T-they also imposed usage-base...
  • lllllll: While yes Google can cause harm right now they aren't the problem. The main Problem is these corrupt ISPs that refuse to upgrade the Network and Expan...
  • Limboaz: Not happy times for Comcrap. Hopefully this signifies a new trend of activism when it comes to regulators overseeing companies that refuse to play fai...
  • Phillip Dampier: We know John Malone and Charter are still very interested, but the last attempt met with a hostile response from TWC management. There will need to be...
  • Bob: So does Charter now step in as the new suitor ?...
  • lllllll: T-Mobile cut off limit is Somewhere over a few TBs/ Month. Also I'm not in a Semi Rural Area Either. I'm in a decent size City. Data Usage doesn't equ...
  • Phillip Dampier: I think what is unique is that Google can seamlessly switch between T-Mobile and Sprint, which is a good way to deal with both carriers' temperamental...

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