California Public Utilities Commission delays vote on Comcast-TWC deal

PUC delays until May 7 its vote on Comcast's proposed takeover of Time Warner Cable

The California Public Utilities Commission has delayed until May 7 its vote on Comcast Corp.'s proposed takeover of Time Warner Cable.

The regulatory group also rescheduled a hearing in Los Angeles to receive public comment on the proposed media consolidation. The four-hour meeting now is scheduled for April 14 in the auditorium of the Public Utilities Commission's building at 320 West 4th St. in downtown Los Angeles.

Last month, opponents of the proposed Comcast transaction criticized the PUC for holding its public hearing in San Francisco rather than in Southern California, where the merger would have its most dramatic effect. The PUC initially had scheduled a hearing in Los Angeles for Good Friday but then changed the date to April 14.

If the merger is approved, Comcast would become the largest cable TV and high-speed Internet provider in Southern California with about 1.8 million homes in the Los Angeles region.

In addition to picking up customers currently served by Time Warner Cable, Comcast has a separate deal pending that would consolidate homes in Southern California now served by Charter Communications.

The Federal Communications Commission and the U.S. Department of Justice separately are scrutinizing Comcast's proposed $45-billion acquisition of Time Warner Cable. This month, the FCC postponed its informal deadline to review the matter. The federal government is expected to make a decision in the next couple of months.

California's PUC is involved because it must approve the transfer of licenses to Comcast from Charter and Time Warner Cable. Already, an administrative law judge, who is advising the PUC, has recommended that the commission approve Comcast's takeover — but with a lengthy list of conditions.

State officials would like Comcast to aggressively expand its program of providing low-cost broadband Internet service to low-income families. Comcast offers a $9.95-a-month Internet Essentials program to eligible low-income families. The Philadelphia giant says more than 350,000 families participate in the program in its current service footprint.

One proposed PUC condition would ask Comcast to sign up 45% of the targeted low-income homes within two years after absorbing Time Warner Cable systems.

Comcast has said it would accept many of the conditions proposed by the administrative law judge. However, company executives have said proposed time frames for wide adoption of Internet Essentials in Southern California might be unrealistic.

"We are looking forward to prompt approval by the Commission," a Comcast spokeswoman said Monday in a statement. "Comcast continues to agree with the fundamental conclusion of the proposed decision — that the transaction is in the public interest and that the applications should be granted."

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