The hazards of regional concentration is emerging as a major theme in objections to the planned takeover of Adelphia Communications by Comcast and Time Warner. In FCC filings tied to the deal, DBS rival EchoStar and consumer advocacy group Media Access Project (MAP) are forcefully making arguments similar to those of DirecTV. While most media critics protest the scale of cable operators' national reach, EchoStar and MAP make novel arguments about the dangers of Comcast and Time Warner's concentration in particular regions.
Takeovers that strengthen cable operators' system "clusters" tend to create substantial operating efficiencies. Such concentration has also been key to the wide rollout of advanced Internet and phone services.
But there is a downside, argues the Media Access Project: "The extraordinarily high levels of regional concentration that would be created would greatly exacerbate the adverse impacts of the national concentration."
MAP drafted comments filed by 10 groups including Center for Creative Voices in Media, U.S. Public Interest Research Group and Center for Digital Democracy. MAP argues that allowing Comcast and Time Warner to both buy and swap systems to bulk up in local markets reduces the chance that a programmer or group looking to air commercials on controversial political issues can get access in those cities. If Comcast turns down a channel or ad, there are fewer (or perhaps no other) cable operators in the market to turn to.
EchoStar's warnings about local concentration hinge on the cable operators' ability to dictate harsh terms to regional sports programmers, including reducing satellite companies' access to important product.