Consumer Groups Set Local Merger-Pressure Strategy

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Consumer groups plan to pressure local governments around the country to refuse the transfer of franchise agreements necessary for AT&T Broadband and Comcast Corp. to merge.

Mark Cooper, research director of the Consumer Federation of America, said campaign would target Cambridge, Mass., San Francisco, Dallas, and Montgomery County, Md., and is being aided by consumer organizations in California, Texas, and Massachusetts.

"For two decades federal authorities have let cable companies run amuck, jacking up prices at almost three times the rate of inflation, while delivering poor service quality, and mergers have played a key role in creating cable monopoly power." Cooper said in a statement. "The best opportunity for local officials to protect their citizens and consumers from these abuses is during the negotiation over the transfer of the franchise."

The AT&T Broadband and Comcast merger is being reviewed by the Justice Department and the Federal Communications Commission. Thousands of local governments need to endorse the deal through franchise transfers.

Both AT&T Corp. chairman C. Michael Armstrong and Comcast president Brian Roberts told a Senate panel last month that the deal would spur the rollout of digital services and create a robust competitor to the Baby Bell phone companies.

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