CPUC vote nears on Comcast, Time Warner merger

When Comcast publicly announced their $45.2 billion takeover of Time Warner Cable last February, experts predicted the government would give its blessing.

But the further the FCC and Department of Justice trudge along in their review — and the more public comments and opposition land at their doorstep — the more uncertain its approval seems.

This month, the FCC one again suspended their non-binding 180-day review of the proposed merger of Comcast and Time Warner Cable days before the deadline expired. To add to the bureaucratic approval, the Department of Justice must also make sure it doesn’t break any antitrust laws, which means assistance from a handful of state auditors.

The California Public Utilities Commission will take their first shot at scheduling a vote for the Golden State March 26, but it is unclear whether they will also buy more time to resolve the matter. New York’s Public Service Commission has also repeatedly delayed decision-making, extending their deadline to April 20.

A CPUC administrative law judge last month laid out a myriad of drawbacks to merger, pointing to a spike in California households served by Comcast up to 84 percent.

The judge recommended the commission approve it nevertheless, but with 25 restrictions, like offering standalone broadband service instead of forcing bundled packages. Comcast, which stands to control 40 percent of the national broadband market, has called the demands “unrealistic.”

Michael McCauley, media director of Consumers Union, said:

“That gives you a pretty good idea of what would happen if this merger were approved with those conditions. … Those temporary benefits don’t come close to making up for the long-term damage that would be caused by the merger.”

Comcast assured the government in their filing that their merger with Time Warner Cable wouldn’t stifle broadband competition because they operate in different areas. But for customers who will find it difficult to avoid Comcast service once Time Warner Cable relinquishes control in Southern California, the impact is undeniable.

At the final public comment session this month before the upcoming vote, more than 65 speakers signed up to either support or oppose the merger. Supporters overwhelmingly included organizations Comcast helped fund.

San Francisco resident Jeremy Graham stated his frustration with the lack of abysmal choices for service providers, and urged the commission to think about whose interest they stand for:

“California residents pay more for worse service than almost anyone in the developed world. … If you work for the people of California, you can show that by opposing this merger. This would be a disaster for Californians and for Internet consumers.”

Groups have filed a joint petition in opposition while Common Cause CA, Daily Kos, CREDO, Courage Campaign, Consumers Union and Color of Change have contributed to to the ‘Stop the Comcast Merger Coalition.’

Both Comcast and Time Warner Cable rank at the bottom of customer satisfaction measured by the 2014 American Public Service Index, which leaves many questioning whether two ‘wrongs’ make a right.

Consumer’s Union and its allies are hoping the CPUC will also delay the vote on the judge’s approval with conditions to hear more on the issue and offer an alternative, said McCauley.:

“We know that if two poorly rated companies get together, things are going to go from bad to worse.”