Commentary

Sen. Franken: Comcast/TWC Merger Will Compromise Free Flow Of Ideas

Comcast's proposed $45 billion merger with Time Warner Cable “poses a substantial threat to the open Internet,” Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) told the Federal Communications Commission today.

“The proposed acquisition would give Comcast exclusive control over the only roads on the information superhighway that end in the living rooms and offices of tens of millions of Americans,” Franken says in comments filed with regulators today.

He adds that the deal would result in Comcast providing broadband service to 40% of U.S. users -- nearly twice as much as its closest competitor.  “Anyone who uses the Internet to connect with the world -- a small business, a blogger, a content producer, a start-up, a newspaper -- will face an untenable choice: do as Comcast demands or lose access to two-in-five American broadband subscribers,” Franken writes. (In fact, if the FCC raises its definition of broadband to 10 Mbps, a combined Comcast-Time Warner Cable would be the sole broadband provider for an estimated 60% of households, according to Free Press research director Derek Turner.

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Franken also points to Comcast's recent well-publicized dispute with Netflix as an example of how the cable company can use its market power to impede online video distributors.

Netflix recently began paying Comcast in order to directly interconnect with its servers, in hopes of improving the quality of Netflix streams -- which were choppy and often froze, due to delivery problems. Even though Netflix agreed to the deal, the company has repeatedly criticized Comcast (and other Internet service providers) for extracting extra “interconnection” tolls.

For his part, Franken points out that the reason ISPs like Comcast don't appear all that concerned about poor quality streams is that they don't face competition for broadband subscribers. “Comcast allowed congestion to accumulate at the ports where Netflix traffic exited the Internet's backbone and entered Comcast's last mile networks,” Franken writes. “If the last mile of the broadband Internet market were sufficiently competitive, an incident like this would not arise, or, if it did, it would not be tolerated. Instead, however, Comcast was able to use its market power to demand payments from Netflix and Netflix's transit providers in exchange for access to Comcast's subscribers.”

He is calling on the FCC to reject the deal, which he says will “compromise the free flow of information and ideas that is vital to our economy and our democracy.”

 

 

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