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"Blue Mail": Time Warner Cable Holding Dodgers Games Hostage to Anti-Consumer Merger

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Harvey Rosenfield & John M. Simpson

Santa Monica, CA -- Time Warner Cable is refusing to negotiate deals with other broadcasting companies that would allow southern Californians who do not subscribe to TWC to watch Dodger games in order to leverage public support for its $45 billion merger with Comcast, Consumer Watchdog said today. Time Warner executives have said they are “too busy” pushing for approval of the merger to focus on licensing deals, according to the news media.

“This isn’t blackmail, its ‘Blue Mail,’” said Consumer Watchdog’s founder, Harvey Rosenfield. “Comcast and Time Warner may think consumers and public officials will knuckle under in the hope that they’ll get access to TWC’s exclusive Dodgers channel, but it’s having the opposite effect. People realize that the merger will just give Comcast more monopoly power to dictate unfair prices and withhold programs people want.”

Seventy percent of Los Angelenos are not TWC subscribers and cannot watch their home team’s games. With baseball season underway and outrage growing, state utility regulators are holding a public hearing in Los Angeles this afternoon.

Consumer Watchdog Warns of Higher Prices, Worse Service

“The consolidation of the largest cable television providers would create a media juggernaut that would stifle completion and hurt consumers who would ultimately pay higher prices for even worse service,” wrote John M. Simpson, Consumer Watchdog’s Privacy Project Director, in a letter to the Federal Communications Commission opposing the merger when it was first announced. “A final demonstration that the deal is not about improving service for consumers, is the outrageous $80 million ‘golden parachute’ Time Warner Cable CEO Robert D. Marcus will receive if the deal is completed.  The deal is about lining the pockets of shareholders and executives. It clearly is not in the public interest.”

“The companies are trying to argue that they don’t directly compete in any cities.  That is not the issue.  Rather the concern is the share of the national cable TV market the behemoth would control, which would be substantial,” wrote Simpson. “The merged company would cover 16 of the largest 20 metropolitan regions for multichannel video programing distribution including the crown jewels of New York and Los Angeles.”

The proposed merger poses even greater problems with Internet access, Consumer Watchdog said. “In most of the markets they serve, Comcast and Time Warner Cable are the primary providers of high-speed broadband Internet access. Because in each of these markets the companies are effectively local monopolies, they are able to charge more for slower broadband service than is the case in other developed nations around the world,” wrote Simpson.

Read Consumer Watchdog’s formal comments to the FCC here: http://www.consumerwatchdog.org/resources/fcccomcastcomments082514.pdf

Emerging from Scandal, California Public Utilities Commission Needs to Restore Faith

Consumer Watchdog noted that the CPUC, an agency controlled by five political appointees, is finally emerging from a scandal involving its past president and cozy relationships with the utilities it is supposed to regulate.

“With new leadership at the helm, this is the PUC’s opportunity to correct a dismal record of pro-utility, anti-consumer actions,” said Rosenfield. “Nothing would do more to restore public confidence in the integrity of the agency than its decision to reject the Comcast Time Warner merger.” While the PUC’s disapproval would not block the merger nationwide, it would prevent TWC from transferring its license to Comcast in one of the biggest markets in the nation, and might lead the FCC or the US Department of Justice to challenge the merger.

View the FCC’s Comcast-Time Warner Cable, MB Docket No. 14-57 and find other comments that have been filed here: http://www.fcc.gov/transaction/comcast-twc

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Visit our website at www.ConsumerWatchdog.org