There are plenty of reasons to worry about the proposal to combine Comcast, America’s largest cable and broadband company, with Time Warner Cable, the second-largest cable firm and third-largest broadband provider.
For one, there’s ever more consolidated control over content. There’s also the possibility of certain types of content being given special (or worse) treatment based on the provider’s relationship with Comcast and Time Warner Cable. And there’s the prospect of even higher prices.
Indeed a Comcast executive recently admitted that the company will not promise bills “are going to go down or even that they’re going to increase less rapidly.”
In the capital of a properly functioning democracy, all of these concerns would prompt the federal government to block the deal. But Washington is an occupied city — occupied by Comcast’s vast army. As Time magazine reported, “The company has registered at least 76 lobbyists across 24 firms.”
All of that political power is enhanced by the $9.3 million Comcast, Time Warner Cable and their affiliates have spent on campaign contributions to federal officials in just the last few years, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
So, sure, it’s possible that Washington will block the merger, but it seems unlikely in a capital that most often follows the orders of its moneyed overlords.
As it turns out, the best hope for blocking the merger may be in the states, which could use their certification processes, public utilities commissions and attorneys general to halt the deal.
Already, there are rumblings about these possible moves.
According to Consumers Union, “Over two dozen state attorneys general have already announced that they will be reviewing the transaction” — and they could sue to stop it. Likewise, the public service commission in New York says it is reviewing the deal after the legislature recently empowered it to take action against a merger if cable companies cannot demonstrate it is good for the public.
The trouble, though, is that money is a factor in these political arenas, too. For instance, Comcast and Time Warner Cable have given the Democratic and Republican groups that work to elect attorneys general more than $1.4 million in the past few years, and have contributed roughly $17 million on state compaign contributions in the last year alone.
Of course, with surveys showing consumers furious with Comcast and Time Warner Cable customer service, it is entirely plausible that some state official will try to halt the merger.
But watch the upcoming state campaign finance reports. As the merger moves forward in DC, we are likely to see a lot more Comcast and Time Warner Cable money flooding into state politics. If the merger goes through without a peep from power players outside the beltway, we will know just how much campaign cash it takes to keep the states quiet.