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Comcast-TW Cable Opposition Heats Up Even With Another FCC Delay

Opponents of the Comcast-Time Warner Cable merger are prepping for the next round of verbal brawling on Tuesday, the FCC’s deadline for more comments regarding the pros and cons of the $45 billion deal.

Separately, the FCC on Monday implemented another delay of the time clock governing the schedule of its review. The commission said that FCC recently discovered some 31,000 Comcast-TW Cable documents that would not be delivered to the commission until Dec. 30 because of a “vendor delay.” Earlier, 7,000 documents arrived Dec. 9-10 after being withheld because Comcast-TW Cable believed they were protected by attorney-client privilege.

Given the data dump, the FCC opted to stop the 180-day time clock, a guiding principle designed to prevent the deal review process from dragging on infinitely, to give staff time to review the documents. With the new Jan. 12 restart date, the FCC is expected to hold its vote on the proposed merger by the end of March.

The FCC did not change the Dec. 23 deadline for reply comments to the lengthy response to earlier comments that Comcast filed with the commission on Sept. 24. That filing was noted for its aggressive stance against critics of the deal.

Satcaster Dish Network used that against Comcast in its reply comment filed Tuesday. Dish, a company known for its pugnacious approach to dealmaking, has been one of the most vocal industry opponents of the union of the nation’s two largest cable operators.

It speaks volumes about the current concerns about the health of traditional pay TV providers that Dish’s 40-plus page reply comment focuses largely on the impact of a combined Comcast-TW Cable on the broadband market. Dish is in the midst of assembling an over-the-top channel package to be distributed via broadband. The filing spells out numerous ways that it fears Comcast-TW Cable could interfere with or squash the nascent service because of its big footprint in broadcast.

Dish’s filing calls Comcast’s discussion of arguments made by merger opponents “hectoring, high-handed, strident, shrill… It gives us a view into the post-merger world that the Applicants will create if the commission approves this transaction. … The arrogant tone and sense of entitlement on display provide useful insight into how the combined company will treat the American consumer and competitors if this merger is approved.”

In a nutshell, Dish reiterates its view that the expanded Comcast will use its reach and clout to drive consumers to its own services at the expense of competitors.  The filing lays out three “choke points” in the process of delivering data and video to the home where Comcast-TW Cable would have enormous sway over key technological decisions.

The larger company would also have that much more leverage to demand high fees for carrying NBCUniversal cable channels — or withhold them entirely to prevent a potential competitor from getting off the ground, according to Dish.

Dish scoffed at Comcast’s assertion that its broadband pipes would not discriminate against content from rival companies because it would lose broadband customers in the long run. Dish cited Comcast’s internal stats that would appear to indicate that the company has a low churn rate of broadband customers. (Dish’s filing was heavily redacted when referencing financial info and proprietary data.)

“Comcast is almost like the Hotel California of broadband, an establishment guests can check into but never leave,” Dish’s filing asserted.

More reply comments are expected on Tuesday. The Stop Mega Comcast Coalition, a collection of industry players, including Dish and media watchdog groups, will hold a media conference call to discuss the filings and promo their effort to torpedo the deal.

Comcast had no comment on Dish’s filing. The company did respond to the FCC’s delay of the review time clock.

“This limited and defined three-week clock stoppage allows FCC staff to review the new materials, and we remain on track for the transaction review to be concluded early in 2015. We are pleased that the FCC did not delay the December 23 reply comment deadline so that work on the transaction will continue, and we’ll be filing our final comments tomorrow.”

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