Elizabeth Warren, Al Franken and four other U.S. senators asked federal regulators to block Comcast Corp.’s proposed purchase of Time Warner Cable Inc.
The merger of the largest U.S. cable companies would lead to higher prices and fewer choices for consumers, the lawmakers said in a letter Tuesday to the Justice Department and Federal Communications Commission.
Comcast officials plan to meet Wednesday with Justice Department antitrust staff who are said to be preparing a recommendation to block the deal, which has been under regulatory review for the past year. The senators said there was an “undeniable reality that the combined Comcast-TWC would be the overwhelmingly dominant cable and broadband Internet provider in the nation and control much of the programming that Americans watch.”
Lawmakers don’t vote on approving mergers, but they can influence regulators who may be nearing the end of their review of the $45.2 billion deal. The merger proposed in February 2014 would give Philadelphia-based Comcast cable systems in top media markets New York and Los Angeles.
Among the five Democrats who signed the letter, Franken of Minnesota already had taken a public stand against the cable merger. He and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut are both members of the Senate’s antitrust panel. Warren, of Massachusetts, is a member of Democratic leadership, while Ed Markey, also of Massachusetts, sits on the Commerce Committee that oversees the FCC. Ron Wyden of Oregon and Bernard Sanders of Vermont, an independent, also signed the letter.
The deal offers consumers benefits that are “demonstrated and real” including more video-on-demand and faster broadband, said Sena Fitzmaurice, a Washington-based spokeswoman for Comcast.
“These benefits all come with no reduction in competition for consumers,” she said in an e-mail. “We’ll serve less than 30 percent of the video market, and only about 30 million of the 87 million broadband subscriptions in the U.S.”
The senators in their letter said Comcast would have 57 percent of the broadband Internet market and 30 percent of the cable market. The enlarged company would have incentive to prioritize its programming over that of competitors, and “ability to drive out competitors” leading to larger customer bills, they said.
Staff attorneys at the Justice Department are preparing to recommend blocking the merger, people familiar with the agency’s process said last week.
Peter Carr, a Justice Department spokesman, declined to comment as did Kim Hart, an FCC spokeswoman.
The deal has attracted opposition from at least one House member, Representative Tony Cardenas, a Democrat representing suburban Los Angeles.
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