The FCC once again slowed down its review of the proposed merger between Comcast and Time Warner Cable, indefinitely pausing the comment period because certain content companies—including CBS, Disney, Time Warner, and Viacom—refused to allow commenters to access information they deemed “Highly Confidential.” Most of the information that the content companies refused to disclose relates to agreements pursuant to which Comcast gets distribution rights for their content.
This is not the first time the Commission extended the review period for the mega-merger due to poor information disclosure by the companies at issue. In the beginning of October, the FCC pushed back its deadline for accepting public comments on the merger because Comcast dumped 850 pages of long-overdue data about the merger, but somehow still failed to include adequate responses to many FCC information requests.
These tactics should come as no surprise. Comcast—the “worst company in America”—is facing significant public opposition to its proposed merger, which would make Comcast-TWC the only provider of high-speed broadband service available to nearly 40 percent of current subscribers. The combined company’s monopoly power would be even greater in the market for truly high-speed broadband (>50 Mbps download speed). Giving a single company terminating access monopoly power over half of the country’s Internet users is an obvious problem that startups and consumers both recognize.
And yet, even as Comcast continues to obfuscate and intentionally conceal important information about the merger, it boldly argues that the merger should be approved because opposing commenters “don’t cite any credible, specific facts that refute the extensive evidence” Comcast has put forward. Withholding information while chiding opponents for not citing enough information is the definition of chutzpah.
Beyond engaging in shenanigans with its information production, Comcast’s case in favor of the merger is rather weak, claiming that the combination wouldn’t be anticompetitive because Comcast and Time Warner don’t currently compete in any single market, so merging the two companies won’t give consumers any less choice. Of course, this is really just a concession that the high-speed broadband market is already anticompetitive; Comcast is essentially claiming that competition won’t decrease because there isn’t any competition. Twisted logic aside, several of the country’s leading antitrust experts wrote a letter to the FCC cogently outlining the merger's anticompetitive impact and arguing that the merger “should be blocked in its entirety because it would substantially lessen competition...and is not in the public interest.”
Even with minimal information available to evaluate the merger, it is clearly a bad deal for startups, consumers, and the economy. Allowing Comcast and Time Warner to merge would greatly decrease their incentives to build faster networks and would give the combined company immense power to discriminate against startups offering competing services. The merger is a significant threat to the continued viability of the Internet economy and should be stopped at all costs.