NAB Reiterates FCC Should Put Charter Merger on Hold

USTelecom takes aim at cable competition, too
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The National Association of Broadcasters has reiterated its call for the FCC to delay a decision on the proposed Charter-Time Warner Cable-Bright House merger until it completes its long-delayed 2010 and 2014 quadrennial broadcast ownership rule review.

NAB echoed that call in reply comments Thursday, the deadline for responses to the merging parties' response to its critics. NAB was joined by a number of other filers with issues, and responses to Charter.

NAB's argument is that the FCC should not let big cable companies merge until it has loosened or eliminated ownership restrictions—duopoly and cross-ownership rules—NAB argues makes it harder for broadcasters to compete with those merged companies.

"In responding to NAB’s petition, the Merging Parties erroneously asserted that the public would benefit from reduced fees paid by New Charter for programming; failed to address questions of consumer harm stemming from cable system clustering; and inaccurately characterized changes in the video marketplace and how those changes have enhanced pay TV providers’ bargaining power in retransmission consent negotiations and in their dual role as multichannel video and broadband gatekeepers," NAB told the FCC.

Also talking up the threat of "Big Cable" was USTelecom, which represents telecoms including AT&T and Verizon.

"The additional consolidation of the cable industry contemplated by this transaction, and the potential for its further concentrating control over must-have video programming, is of significant concern to USTelecom’s small, medium and large member companies," USTelecom president Walter McCormick said.

USTelecom wants conditions on the deal, in part because it says telecoms are at a competitive disadvantage given the FCC mandate that it continue to spend money on legacy networks rather than on competing in broadband with the "increasingly dominant cable industry."

Charter had no comment on the filings, but did address the closing of the comment period in a public statement.

"[W]e are gratified by the support New Charter has received to date from programmers, diversity organizations, business leaders and members of the communities we serve. New Charter’s commitments to provide faster broadband service without data caps, modem fees or contracts, industry leading interconnection policies, and investing in customer service by returning jobs to the U.S. put the transaction squarely in the public interest. We look forward to continuing to work with regulators and interested parties to achieve a timely approval."

Charter CEO Tom Rutledge also talked up the merger Thursday on CNBC.

"We’re going to create jobs, create quality service and we’re going to expand our competitive footprint, too," said CNBC's David Faber. "We're going to build out areas that are unserved in commercial areas. We'll bring high-speed enterprise services to parts of the country that are not served today and we'll expand our residential footprint too, by a million homes. We’ll have a larger, competitive infrastructure, a better service organization and we'll have American workers doing it."

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