Comcast Balks at Access Mandate


At a Senate subcommittee hearing Tuesday on its merger with AT&T
Broadband, Comcast Corp. president Brian Roberts refused to accept a government
merger condition like the one imposed on AOL Time Warner Inc. that requires
carriage of three unaffiliated Internet-service providers.

'I don't think it should be a condition of this deal because we don't have a
gatekeeping service today,' Roberts told the Senate Subcommittee on Antitrust,
Business Rights and Competition. 'We don't want to get the financial community
concerned that there is going to be regulation of something we just

The Federal Trade Commission refused to allow America Online Inc. to acquire
Time Warner Inc. unless the companies agreed to launch competing ISPs on Time
Warner Cable systems prior to launching a high-speed version of AOL. However,
the Department of Justice, not the FTC, is reviewing the AT&T-Comcast

Last December, Comcast agreed to acquire AT&T's cable division for $72
billion (including debt), forming the largest cable company ever, with at least
22 million of the nation's 69 million cable subscribers.

Panel chairman Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.) and Sen. Mike DeWine (R-Ohio)
expressed concern about the size of the deal and various media-concentration
trends generally, but Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) said AT&T-Comcast does not
violate antitrust law by lessening competition.

'Candidly, it does not appear to be that here,' said Specter, who had kind
words for Philadelphia-based Comcast.

The MSO was founded in 1969 by Brian's father, Ralph, who read a brief
statement in support of the deal at the end of the three-hour hearing.

Mark Haverkate, president of cable-system overbuilder WideOpenWest LLC, said
Comcast and AT&T Broadband are running a stealth price-slashing campaign
against current and would-be WOW subs.

'They are conducting a hostile takeover of our industry one customer at a
time,' he said. 'If it's allowed to continue, I think it's going to be

AT&T Corp. chairman and CEO C. Michael Armstrong -- who would become
chairman of AT&T Comcast until 2005 -- said he wouldn't price below cost
whether the competitor is WOW or a Baby Bell.

'I think we've got a lot of competition, and overbuilders aren't the only
ones we are reacting to day-to-day,' Armstrong said.