Saying it should not be approved, the National Hispanic Media Coalition slammed the Charter-Time Warner Cable merger Tuesday in testimony before the California PUC, which is holding a public hearing on the deal Jan. 26.
NHMC was noticeably absent from a memorandum of understanding (MOU) struck between Charter and a dozen diversity groups last week including the National Council of La Raza, League of United Latin American Citizens, National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts, SER-National, Hispanic Federation.
NHMC president Alex Nogales said in the PUC filing that he could envision no conditions on the deal that would mitigate its harms. NHMC said the deal "would harm California consumers, particularly Latinos, by leaving fewer choices, negatively impacting diversity in programming and employment, and causing the prices consumers pay for communications services, like broadband Internet access, to go up."
Charter proposed the TWC deal in May, a $78.7 billion transaction that would create the second largest cable operator in the country with about 17.4 million subscribers. While the companies expect to win regulatory approval of the deal by the end of the first quarter, several parties have come out against the merger in the past several days, including TWC’s former parent, Time Warner.
In its filing with the California PUC, the NHMC claimed that a combined Charter-TWC would pass more than 50% of the homes in the state, often making it the only option for cable and high-speed Internet access service for many consumers and giving it “unprecedented gatekeeper power” to control what content customers are able to access.
The NHMC also said Charter has failed to “sufficiently explain” what impact the deal would have on diversity in its programming and within its workforce.
NHMC said it pulled out of the MOU process—at one time NHMC appeared to have an agreement it could live with—after concluding it lacked the diversity assurances the group was looking for. Among its main asks were expanding carriage of four specific English-language networks, he said, including Robert Rodriguez's El Rey network, NuvoTV, LATV and a fourth he did not identify.
The MOU does have a general commitment to "expand [New Charter's] carriage of Latino targeted English Language programming networks by no fewer than an aggregate of six million (6,000,000) subscribers within nine (9) months after the closing"—which includes any expansion by any of the three merging parties already undertaken since the deal was announced—but also says what networks those are will be at the discretion of Charter.
Janet Murguia, president of the National Council of La Raza, one of the MOU signatories, saw it differently according to her Jan. 15 statement on the agreement. "We believe that the MOU outlines a commitment to working with the Latino community to provide much-needed high speed and affordable internet access, enhanced support for Latino-themed programming in English, and expanding career and employment opportunities," she said. "We welcome the chance to work with Charter on this nascent effort to become a leader in the area of diversity inclusion and engagement."
“Charter is pleased to have established a MOU with leading organizations representing communities of color including leading Latino organizations like NCLR LULAC and the Hispanic Federation and looks forward to continuing productive relationships with them and other such groups in the future," Charter said when asked for a response to NHMC. "These transactions are in the public interest, as they will provide more customer friendly pricing and policies, and allow for faster innovation and the delivery of more robust services."
Mike Farrell contributed to this report.