Stakeholders Spar Over Comcast/TWC, AT&T/DirecTV

ACA Takes Pulse of D.C. Deal Dissections

Parties on both sides of the Comcast/Time Warner Cable and AT&T/DirecTV deals in particular and consolidation in general lined up to gauge the status of those deals inside the Beltway.

That came at a panel session at the American Cable Association Summit in Washington.

Panel participants included Jon Lebowitz, of Davis Polk (which represents Comcast), and former Federal Trade Commission Chief; John Bergmayer of Public Knowledge; Jeff Blum from Dish; Hank Hultquist from AT&T and Ross Lieberman from the American Cable Association.

Blum, Bergmayer and Lieberman were arrayed against the deals.

Bergmayer argued that Title II will not make it more likely for the FCC to approve the Comcast/TWC merger.  He said it does not alleviate all the harms that the petitioners have raised. “Most of them are not even addressed by what we know about the net neutrality rules,” he said.

Blum agreed.  He said that the bottom line remained a combined Comcast/TWC control of 54% of high-speed broadband subs. He likened Comcast to the Hotel California where, once you are there, you can never leave.  “I think there control over so many markets and the ways that they can sabotage competition, net neutrality doesn’t come close to addressing both of those, including “sabotaging” over the top.

Leibowitz, not surprisingly, took issue with the characterization of the merger, though, he did not weigh in on the Title II impact.

He said that once the government had conducted its economic impact and what was good for consumers, rather than competitors, the deal would go through in part because of the investment in innovation and infrastructure in represented.

He also said the deal would mean a heightened sense of urgency for other competitors to compete. He said it was utterly clear that Comcast and AT&T do not now compete in their individual markets.

Hultquist said he thought AT&T and DirecTV had made a strong case that they had complementary assets and the merger was a response to marketplace conditions.

Lieberman said that as ACA has pointed out, Comcast /TWC combined distribution and content, and when that is the case, there is the incentive and opportunity to discriminate.