Washington-The Walt Disney Co. is getting help on its problems with America Online Inc.'s merger with Time Warner Inc. from one of Hollywood's most reviled lawmakers: Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.).
On Aug. 17, Helms sent a letter to the Federal Trade Commission seeking close review of the merger. Helms said he had heard from a number of people, including a Durham, N.C., TV-station operator, who feared that AOL-Time Warner would choke off Internet competition.
"As I understand it, a potential negative impact of this proposed merger will be the ability of this combined company to 'wall off' all other providers and thereby control the information pipelines of the Internet, television and electronic commerce," Helms said in a two-page letter to FTC chairman Robert Pitofsky.
Helms said he wanted the FTC, which is scrutinizing the merger, to ensure that "open access" will remain a key feature of the Internet into the future.
The Helms letter echoed many of the concerns raised by Disney, which is asking the Federal Communications Commission to require AOL-Time Warner to sell its programming or cable-distribution properties as a condition of merger approval.