Tuesday, May 20, 2014

New York to review Comcast-Time Warner deal

Posted By on Tue, May 20, 2014 at 10:58 AM

The state Public Service Commission has started its review of the proposed Comcast-Time Warner Cable merger. The review should take about four months.

Here's the good news for New Yorkers who get cable, Internet, or phone services from either company: the PSC will examine some very important criteria in assessing the $45 billion deal. According to a press release sent out yesterday, the PSC will consider how the merger could impact state efforts to expand rural broadband Internet service, how it could impact state efforts to improve schools' high-speed Internet access, and how it might affect pricing for consumer services.

And New Yorkers may also benefit from a recent change in state law, which requires cable companies to prove that any merger is in the public interest. Previously, the state could only reject a cable merger if PSC staff and officials could show that it wasn't in the public's best interest.

I've said before that the Comcast-Time Warner merger probably won't be great for consumers. Rochester, like many markets, has only a few consumer broadband providers, and I wouldn't say they compete vigorously. It's pretty standard to hear customers grumbling over outages, unreliable connections, or price increases.

But odds are that New York won't reject the deal. Judging by the criteria they're examining, however, PSC officials may require certain commitments from the new company. It'd make sense for regulators to require the new company to invest a certain amount in new rural broadband networks, for example.

New York is one of several states that must approve the merger. But the Federal Communications Commission's ongoing review will arguably be the most extensive and the most critical. Its decision, and any conditions that come with it, will shape national cable and Internet policy and competition. And when it comes to Comcast and Time Warner, there are certain issues that are worth pressing.

Both companies have flirted with data caps for broadband subscribers, and Comcast appears to be serious about the idea.

And this week, the FCC will vote on a plan to allow Internet "fast lanes," where digital services can pay Internet providers for better access to their mutual subscribers. A top Comcast exec seems to like the idea, while net neutrality advocates loathe it.

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