Groups Seek Slower Merger Review


Consumer groups and local regulators are asking the Federal Communications Commission to slow its review of the acquisition of Adelphia Communications Corp. by Comcast Corp. and Time Warner Inc.

The FCC had set July 5 as the deadline for filing petitions to deny the merger, but the groups want at least another 16 days, claiming that Comcast and Time Warner withheld for a few weeks data that outlined the efficiencies the merger would generate.

Seeking the extra time were the Consumers Union, the Consumer Federation of America, the Center for Digital Democracy and the National Hispanic Media Coalition. The National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors filed separately in support of the groups.

According to their June 22 FCC filing, the groups said the cable companies would not oppose the request for an extension of time.

In May, Comcast and Time Warner crafted a $17.6 billion deal to take control of and divide Adelphia’s 5.2 million subscribers. After the deal, Comcast will end up serving 23.3 million customers and Time Warner Cable 14.4 million.

The FCC and the Federal Trade Commission must approve the deal. In recent years, the FCC has attempted to conclude merger reviews within 180 days.

Comcast and Time Warner bear the burden of showing the FCC that the merger would serve the public interest. The two MSOs have said transferring customers from a bankrupt MSO to two healthy companies that continue to roll out new products would undoubtedly benefit the public. Regional strength would also help in deploying digital-phone service in competition with the Baby Bell phone companies.

“Most cable service areas are more diffused than the regionalized footprints of the [Baby Bells],” Comcast, Time Warner and Adelphia told the FCC in a May 18 filing.

The consumer groups -- taking a position shared by DirecTV Inc. -- are concerned that Comcast and Time Warner will use the merger to build regional superclusters and leverage them to tie up programming.

Comcast and Time Warner have told the FCC local consolidation will make them more efficient, especially in marketing new services.