Consumer groups have petitioned the FCC to deny the proposed Charter-Time Warner Cable-Bright House Networks merger, saying Charter's broadband-related voluntary commitments -- settlement-free peering, no usage-based pricing, and more -- are insufficient to protect the public interest.
Common Cause. Consumers Union, Public Knowledge and The Open Mic Initiative argue the deal would allow the combined companies ("New Charter") to restrict online video competition, restrict access to programming generally, anti-competitively cross-subsidize it video business, give it greater control over set-tops, and threaten access to PEG programming.
"Ultimately, the Commission cannot grant this merger unless it can be assured that a post-merger Charter cannot detrimentally affect the programming market, or use its clout as a video distributor to impose contractual prohibitions that would inhibit online video’s access to programming in ways that are less visible than the blunt instrument of data caps, Open Internet violations, and congested interconnection points," they told the FCC.
As proposed, they said, the merger cannot provide the FCC that assurance and must be blocked,
“The proposed combination of Charter, Time Warner Cable, and Bright House raises serious questions as to whether consumers will lose out in an ever-consolidating video marketplace," said Public Knowledge senior staff attorney John Bergmayer. "[As] it did in the failed Comcast/Time Warner Cable merger proposal, the FCC must ensure that the increased market power this deal would give Charter would not harm competition, diversity of programming, or the public interest.”
“Charter’s proposed transactions with Time Warner Cable (TWC) and Bright House Networks (BHN) is receiving broad support," said the company in a statement. "To date, there are hundreds of positive comments filed with the FCC from a broad and diverse array of voices, including Netflix; civil rights groups like the Hispanic Leadership Alliance; independent programmers TV One, Bounce TV Fuse (formerly Nuvo) and One World Sports, as well as from dozens of local businesses and community organizations.
"We recognize that there are also parties who challenge the benefits of the proposed transactions. We are listening to them and have addressed many of the issues they have raised with commitments such as those about expanding access to fast broadband, preserving an Open Internet and investing in interconnection, enhancing customer service by adding more highly trained employees for our call centers and field technician operations. We look forward to continued engagement with regulators, interested parties and members of the communities we serve about the significant public interest benefits of the transactions.”