Comcast Today: House Grills Execs on Time Warner Merger

The pairing of nation's two biggest cable companies even triggers GOP concern.

Comcast’s merger with Time Warner may yet get approval from federal authorities. But it won’t be because of popularity. That much was clear after Thursday’s House panel meeting on the topic.

Reuters: Lawmakers expressed concern about combining the top two U.S. cable operators at a congressional hearing Thursday to discuss Comcast’s plan to merge with Time Warner Cable Inc. While none of the lawmakers asked regulators to block the transaction, both Republicans and Democrats cautioned there were potential negatives in the $45 billion deal. Representative Blake Farenthold, a Texas Republican, worried that small programmers may not be able to sell video to cable operators. “I don’t want to sound hostile to this merger,” he said, but noted constituents and interest groups have raised concerns.

USA Today: Comcast and Time Warner Cable executives were literally on the hot seat Thursday in Congress. When the temperature in the hearing room at the Rayburn House Office Building rose because the heat was on for some reason, antitrust law subcommittee Rep. Spencer Bachus, R-Ala., told the panelists that the heat had been on before he arrived. “I have asked them to turn on the air conditioning, which I understand has now kicked on. If any of the witnesses in (the) audience want to take off (your) coat,” he says, “you may save yourself a lot of shine when you give your testimony. ” Comcast executive vice president David Cohen quipped, “We appreciate you bringing alive the analogy of being on the hot seat.”

Variety: Matthew Polka, the CEO of the American Cable Assn., which represents small- and medium-sized cable operators, said that the transaction uould result in higher prices and fewer choices for consumers, as Comcast gains greater bargaining power in negotiations. For example, he said that the company would have the “incentive” to charge higher prices for it channels, or, when it comes to carrying non-Comcast channels, that it will demand “even larger volume discounts from its rivals.” Cohen, however, defended the merger as falling well within the size acceptable to antitrust regulators. He noted that the FCC has twice concluded that a cap of 30% of the cable households was the cap “justified to prevent undue control” over programming negotiations. Although courts have struck down that cap, the Comcast-TWC combination would still fall below it, he said.

Boston Globe: Representative Spencer Bachus, Republican of Alabama, chairman of the antitrust subcommittee, said in an opening statement that while size alone does not necessarily lead to anticompetitive behaviors, “it can result in an ability to influence markets in anticompetitive manners.” If the companies combined, the new entity would be the primary pay television provider in 37 of the top 40 markets, Bachus said, and would account for 40 percent of the nation’s broadband customers. Nevertheless, he added, companies including Comcast have invested heavily in new technologies, to the benefit of consumers.

TheHill: Members of the House Judiciary’s antitrust subcommittee expressed some reservations about the proposed deal between Comcast and Time Warner Cable. The acquisition could turn Comcast into a behemoth with undue power to prioritize its own content over others’, some feared, since it already owns NBC-Universal and its slate of programming. “Comcast is a cable company and a programmer,” said Rep. John Conyers (Mich.), the Judiciary Committee’s top Democrat. “That raises a double concern with me … and I think the Department of Justice is going to take some little while sorting this out,” he added. “I don’t know if it’s resolvable to be honest with you, at first blush.”

SlashGear: Asking how Comcast would stem the cost of cable for consumers, Rep. Suzan DelBene (D., Wash) said “You’ve said that you don’t expect this transition to have an impact on prices. What can be done to help lower prices?” David Cohen, Executive Vice President of Comcast, couldn’t give an answer, instead offering the deal “has the potential to slow the increase in prices.”Cohen went on to say “a significantly improved customer experience” would be an important plus to this deal for Time Warner customers. Comcast offers “better WiFi, more programming choices, faster Internet”, and their X-1 operating system, which Cohen laid out in a blog post about today’s meetings.

Follow @JoelMMathis on Twitter.