California PUC member moves to block Comcast-Time Warner Cable merger

PUC Commissioner Mike Florio says proposed Comcast-Time Warner Cable merger is 'not in the public interest'

Just days before an important public hearing, a California Public Utilities Commission member has raised the stakes by proposing the regulatory panel block Comcast's bid to acquire Time Warner Cable.

PUC Commissioner Mike Florio on Friday submitted an alternative proposal to the five-member PUC. His measure would deny Comcast's request to take over the licenses held in California by Time Warner Cable and Charter Communications.

"This transaction is not in the public interest," Florio's 89-page proposal said.

Among the possible harms outlined in his recommendation was a potential to lower the quality of service for cable TV customers in California. He also raised concerns about privacy and a shortage of competition in the delivery of high-speed Internet service in the state.

Florio also embraced the arguments of the Writers Guild of America, West.

The Los Angeles guild has been arguing for months that a bigger Comcast would threaten the development of the burgeoning online streaming services market because those entities, including Netflix, Hulu and Sling TV, compete with Comcast's core business of delivering packages of TV channels.

"Handing Comcast a near-monopoly in high-speed Internet service in California threatens continued progress towards a more diverse and competitive media landscape," the WGA said in a statement late Friday. "The merger would cause too much harm to Californians."

Florio's move means now there are two proposals on the table.

In February, Administrative Law Court Judge Karl Bemesderfer recommended the PUC approve the Comcast merger, saying it was in the public interest. 

But Bemesderfer added a lengthy list of suggested conditions, including requiring that Comcast work diligently to expand high-speed Internet access to low-income residents in Los Angeles and other counties in California.

PUC commissioners are expected to vote May 21 on the merger.

The PUC also plans a public hearing on the matter from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday at Junipero Serra State Office Building, 320 W. 4th St. in Los Angeles.

"We continue to believe the administrative law judge’s decision, reached after months of briefings, analysis, and careful consideration, has properly recommended approval of the Comcast-Time Warner Cable-Charter transaction," Bryan Byrd, a Comcast spokesman, said in a statement.

Comcast needs the PUC's blessing for the deal because the group regulates cable TV and phone service in the state of California. The merger, if approved, would increase Comcast's service footprint to four-fifths of the state. 

The Federal Communications Commission and the U.S. Department of Justice separately are reviewing the proposed merger, which would give Comcast nearly 30 million customers nationwide.

Comcast hopes to prevail and complete the merger this summer.

The Philadelphia cable giant has said benefits to consumers would outweigh any worries that the company would use its added clout to squeeze customers.

"Comcast has persuasively demonstrated that these benefits will include faster Internet speeds, innovative video and voice services, Comcast’s nationally acclaimed broadband adoption program Internet Essentials, and Comcast’s commitment to workforce and supplier diversity," Byrd said Friday.

"We remain confident this process will ultimately lead to approval of the transaction," he said.

Twitter: @MegJamesLAT

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times
56°