Proposed Comcast-Time Warner Cable-Charter Merger/Swaps/Sales Spark Thousands of Filings at the FCC; Responses Due Sept. 23

by Best Best & Krieger LLP
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The proposed merger of the two largest cable operators in the country, Comcast and Time Warner Cable, and the related system swaps and sales involving Charter Communications, have generated an enormous amount of press coverage (see the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times) and paper this last week. The deadline for the initial round of comments on the merger was Aug. 25, and more than 65,000 filings were listed in the FCC docket as of Aug. 27.

The FCC can approve the merger without conditions, deny the merger, or approve it with conditions to ensure it serves the public interest. This means the outcome of the proceeding could impact local programming and budgets, consumer protection, preservation of the open Internet, and access to regional sports programming, among other things. This filing deadline was intended to allow communities and the general public to weigh-in on the merger.

Among the filers were the mayors of Boston, Los Angeles and New York City, as well as the counties of Los Angeles and Montgomery, Md., together with Portland, Or. and the Ramsey-Washington Suburban Cable Commission. Their filings, and others like them, argued that if the merger is approved, it should be approved subject to enforceable conditions. The conditions proposed include:

  • requiring the companies involved in the merger to support local public, educational and government channels by allowing localities to use PEG funding for operating and capital purposes and requiring the companies to provide high-quality channels at no charge to local governments;
  • expansion and improvement of the Internet Essentials program, which offers low-cost Internet connections to school-age children;
  • conditions to speed broadband deployment and adoption to unserved and underserved areas;
  • requirements for customer service improvements; and
  • conditions to prevent operators from engaging in practices that limit competition or access to programming.

The National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors and the Alliance for Community Media were also critical of the merger, as were some cable and media industry representatives, including Netflix, Roku, Starz, ReelzChannel, the Sinclair Broadcast Group, Centurylink, RCN, DISH Network Corporation and the American Cable Association. Among those who urged approval of the merger was a group of 50 cities, led by Philadelphia (although it is not clear whether those cities would oppose the conditions proposed in the filings). All the filings can be found here.

Communities that wish to weigh-in on the debate will have an opportunity to file responses supporting, opposing or supplementing the initial comments on Sept. 23, and can also file replies to the Sept. 23 responses on Oct. 8. There are also opportunities to meet with FCC staff to discuss the merger. More information about the merger can be found here.

 

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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