Thursday, February 13, 2014

Comcast-Time Warner merger probably not great news for consumers

Posted By on Thu, Feb 13, 2014 at 10:22 AM

Rochesterians have limited choices for high-speed Internet service — something that's almost a modern necessity. And a pending merger between Comcast and Time Warner probably won't help matters.

The Washington Post reports that Comcast will pay $45 billion in stocks to take over Time Warner. The deal needs to clear federal anti-trust reviews, but those reviews tend to favor industry over consumers.

Even though the merger probably won't run afoul of anti-trust statutes, it still eliminates competition in the cable and broadband marketplace. And that lack of competition is already an issue in Rochester and countless other communities, whether they're serviced by Time Warner, Comcast, or someone else. The situation has resulted in unimpressive data speeds, high service prices, and connections that are less reliable than many would like. I wrote about the problem at some length back in August (see "The speed wars").

Making matters worse for consumers: a federal court recently struck down some FCC net-neutrality rules. In simple terms, that means that Internet providers can slow down data speeds for some services if they choose. So a cable TV provider that also provides high-speed Internet service could, theoretically, limit speeds for Netflix or other competing video services. This Wired article breaks down the implications.

That's not to say that the large cable companies do not face competition entirely. Locally, Frontier offers DSL service, but the speeds are slower and you have to have phone service through the company. And the fledgling Greenlight Networks is working to extend ultra high-speed networks into new neighborhoods and apartment buildings. But cable remains the most ubiquitous and viable high-speed Internet choice in the region.

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