"Once again we are faced with a proposed cable merger that threatens the emergence of robust competition for streaming services,” Gene Kimmelman, the president of Public Knowledge, a consumer advocacy group, said in a statement. “This merger, as proposed, would create a cable giant that, alongside Comcast, would control the overwhelming majority of high-speed broadband homes in this country, most of which have very few competitive options.”
The coalition argues that Charter may try to bolster its own TV packages by using its expanded market power to stifle competition from new online TV services. Charter could accomplish that goal by making it more difficult for consumers to buy Internet-only service or by favoring its own TV packages, the coalition warns.
Jeff Blum, the deputy general counsel of Dish, explained that his company is lobbying against the deal in an attempt to protect Sling TV, its own Internet-based TV service (also known as an “over-the-top” service). “Right now, Charter is not very big. If this merger goes through, they will be very big and with that increased power, we believe, comes the increased incentive and ability to damage over-the-top services like Sling,” Blum said in a conference call with reporters.
But a glaring absence from the members of the Stop Mega Cable Coalition is Netflix, which had been a leading opponent of the Comcast-TWC deal. In fact, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings said on an earnings call this week that he sees the Charter merger as a “tremendous positive” for online video. “In order to get that statement, I don’t know what Charter gave Netflix,” Dish’s Blum said. “I can’t speak for their motivations.”
Despite the aggressive name of the Stop Mega Cable Coalition, its members have subtly different positions from each other. Dish, for example, says the deal should be blocked outright, while Public Knowledge, Consumers Union, and other groups say they would be open to dropping their opposition if Charter agrees to stringent conditions.
Charter has already agreed to a variety of concessions, including offering low-cost broadband options to poor consumers, abiding by net-neutrality principles, and not capping monthly data usage. The company argues that because it is much smaller than Comcast, its deal doesn’t pose as a threat to competition. Tamara Smith, a Charter spokeswoman, called the coalition's attacks "baseless."
“Charter is a different type of cable company—committed to creating American jobs, offering the most innovative products, delivering fast internet speeds, preserving an open internet and advancing online video friendly policies including no data caps and no modem fees," she said in an emailed statement. "It should come as no surprise that Dish and other parties seeking to use the regulatory review process to extract concessions are also engaging in tired PR tactics to further their self-interests."
The New York state utilities regulator approved Charter’s merger this month, but the FCC and Justice Department are still conducting their investigations.