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Cable Users Among Loudest Critics of Comcast/Time-Warner Deal

The public interest under assault as nation's two-largest cable companies seek mega-merger

- Jon Queally, staff writer

The proposed merger of the nation's two largest cable companies, Comcast and Time-Warner, into one gigantic mega-telecom corporation is being slammed by the people that will be most impacted if the deal goes through: customers.

In this July 30, 2008 file photo illustration, a silhouetted coaxial cable is photographed with the Comcast Corp. logo in the background in Philadelphia.Comcast Corp. announced Thursday that it is buying Time Warner Cable Inc. for $45.2 billion in stock. The deal combines two of the nation's top pay TV and Internet service companies and makes Comcast, which also owns NBCUniversal, a dominant force in both creating and delivering entertainment to U.S. homes. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, file) As the Associated Press, in a piece highlighting the angst of cable users nationwide, reports:

Outrage that these two big cable companies would join hands to form an even more massive entity spurred a cascade of sarcastic tweets and satirical memes: the killer Death Star battle station from "Star Wars," the evil Eye of Sauron from "The Lord of the Rings," and a "South Park" snippet where character Eric Cartman and friends are tormented by cable employees before a logo curiously similar to Time Warner Cable's own.

Consumers weren't buying the assertion of Comcast CEO Brian Roberts that the combination, which will have 30 million TV and Internet subscribers, would be "pro-consumer and pro-competitive."

And that's the argument of media experts and those who have long said that the continued consolidation of major media companies is an attack on the public interest. As journalist Dan Gillmore, who directs the Knight Center for Digital Media entrepreneurship at Arizona State University, writes at the Guardian:

The public interest is not served when a company that provides one-third of all cable TV service in America replaces two smaller ones (which were plenty big in the first place). It is not served when that company already owns one of the four major broadcast networks, a major movie studio, several cable channels (including CNBC, which will assuredly be boosterish) and other properties.

And the public interest is distinctly not served when what's already the largest and most important internet service provider becomes vastly more so. The cable companies, with their inherently better bandwidth than phone company DSL lines, are becoming natural monopolies for wired-line internet access except in the few places where other providers have installed fiber lines. As Om Malik, founder of the GigaOm technology news company, put it in a blog post, cable consolidation in this century "is all about broadband", which has high profit margins and doesn't have to deal with Hollywood.

And Michael Hiltzik writes at the Los Angeles Times: "Let's get to the bottom line. There's no way this combination can conceivably be in the public interest. The deal is a blunt challenge to the Federal Communications Commission and its new chairman, Tom Wheeler; the question is whether the FCC will fold against the economic and political power of these two behemoths."

Comcast's acquisition of Time Warner, argues Hiltzik, "will simply expand the geographical area subject to its ruthless competitive practices."

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