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Comcast-TWC Merger Update

Deja Vu! Converters were sold to the public in the early 1950s when UHF television stations began regular broadcasting.

Most Americans are opposed to the proposed merger between Comcast and Time Warner Cable, according to a new public opinion poll by the Consumer Reports National Research Center. The odds of a merger happening may be tipping toward the cable companies. 

There are opinions, and then there is action – or lack of interest. The poll showed just 11 percent of the public supports the $45.2 billion merger, 56 percent oppose it, and 32 percent had no opinion. The Public Service Commission has been holding hearings on the merger in New York this week.

Time Warner Cable has about 2.6 million subscribers statewide;  just 24 of them attended the first meeting Sunday night at SUNY Buffalo.

The second hearing was held Wednesday night at the University at Albany's Performing Arts Center. WRGB reported there were "more people on stage than in the audience." Michael McCauley is with Consumers Union.  "Most people probably had no idea the Public Service Commission was holding a hearing."

The third hearing was scheduled for Thursday evening in New York City.  "If you hated Time Warner Cable, you're going to absolutely despise Comcast."  Phillip Dampier  is founder of Rochester-based consumer group Stop The Cap! He says if you are worried about increasing cable bills and the future of net neutrality, you may have more worries than you realize, as consumers under age 30 pull the plug on cable.   "They're beginning to watch more and more of their television shows and movies online. Services like Netflix, Amazon, Hulu. So if you're sitting in Comcast or Time Warner's headquarters and you see people starting to cancel their cable TV subscription and now they're starting to use their broadband account to watch all of this, they've just lost $80 a month. So how do we prevent people from switching their cable tv off? Why, let's start limiting their broadband usage so that if you want to cancel cable, that's fine, but you're going to pay us anyway."

Dampier warns that if internet access is partitioned into levels of graduating broadband speed or "fast lanes," there's no limit to not only how much cable can charge subscribers, but how much it can charge websites like Netflix to ensure their websites won't be subject to problems like buffering when customers try to watch video.  "It could mean a pay-for-play kind of arrangement on the internet and that could mean big companies have a built-in advantage over small start-ups."

If the proposed merger goes through, Time Warner customers would become Comcast customers. Both companies rank near the bottom of the Consumer Reports customer service survey. Again, Michael McCauley.B  "When Comcast says this isn't gonna result in less competition because we're not in market where we're competing directly with Time Warner Cable, that's true, because they have essentially divvied up the territory. By dominating the market, which is what this merger will allow Comcast to do, they'll have even less incentive to improve prices and customer service."

This comes as Time Warner tries to fix a problem affecting one of the most basic internet services, an email outage that has frustrated many subscribers for weeks.  This issue first was officially acknowledged June 11th, although many customers report outages before that date.

PSC, Time Warner and Comcast did not respond to requests for comment.

You can still weigh in:  comments may be sent electronically to the Secretary, at secretary@dps.ny.gov
, or mailed or delivered to Hon. Kathleen H. Burgess, Secretary, Public Service Commission, Three Empire State Plaza, Albany, New York 12223-1350. Your comments should refer to “Case 14-M-0183, Petition of Comcast Corporation and Time Warner Cable Inc.” Toll-free Opinion Line: Comments may also be  submitted through the Commission’s Opinion Line at 1-800-335-2120.

Consumer Reports conducted a nationally representative online survey in April to measure public sentiment about the proposed merger. Among its key findings:

  • 56 percent of Americans oppose the Comcast / Time Warner Cable merger, while only 11 percent support it. 32 percent of respondents did not have an opinion on the deal.

  • 74 percent of Americans agree that the merger will result in higher Internet and cable prices for everyone.

  • 74 percent of Americans believe consumers will have fewer choices when it comes to cable and Internet providers because smaller companies will not be able to compete with Comcast.

  • 66 percent believe that Comcast will have little incentive to improve customer service because of the lack of competition. 54 percent of respondents said they thought customer satisfaction will get worse if the merger is approved. 

  • 81 percent of Americans are concerned that Comcast's increased market share will enable it to favor its own programming over its competitors' if the merger is approved. Comcast currently owns several broadcast and cable TV channels as a result of its previous merger with NBC Universal. 

  • Consumers were very skeptical of the benefits Comcast has touted if the merger is allowed.  Only 16 percent agreed that the merger will allow Comcast to operate more efficiently and lower its costs, and result in lower prices for consumers. Just one-third of respondents agreed that the merger would allow the two companies to combine their capabilities to develop new innovative products and services for customers. 

  • Just 12 percent of Americans believe that mergers like this one are good for the economy overall. 61 percent said that, if this merger is approved, it will encourage other large scale mergers among TV/Internet companies trying to keep up. The Consumer Reports survey was conducted before AT&T and DirecTV announced their plans for a proposed merger. 

The Consumer Reports survey on the proposed merger was fielded online from April 22-29, 2014 to a national panel of 1,573 individuals. Recruitment quotas were designed to approximate a nationally representative sample.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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