Cord cutters may have more reason to celebrate amid reports that Comcast Corp. is planning to walk away from its proposed $45 billion merger with Time Warner Cable.
Opponents saw the merger as a direct threat to the growing trend of a la carte television since the combined company would have even greater control over what it allows over its broadband networks.
“This isn’t just about cable programming. This is about broadband,” said Michael Copps, a former Democratic member of the Federal Communications Commission and a special adviser to Common Cause, a public interest group. “This is about content and distribution. It’s about the medium and the message.”
Uniting the nation’s two largest cable providers would have meant one company controlled up to 30 percent of the pay television subscriptions and 50 percent of the high-speed Internet market.
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Bloomberg News reported Thursday that Comcast was planning to walk away from the deal after leaks that the Justice Department and the FCC considered blocking the merger.
If true, it’s a major setback for the two companies, which were seeking to combine forces to help compete with services like Netflix and Amazon Prime that have altered the traditional television landscape. Comcast also wanted to do business in cities like New York and Charlotte, N.C., where Time Warner Cable is dominant.
Time Warner Cable serves about 480,000 customers in the Charlotte area. It recently announced it would roll out faster Internet speeds and improved television services in the Charlotte region this summer. But broadband consultants, like Glen Friedman of Ideas and Solutions Inc., in Los Angeles, said Time Warner Cable customers likely would have gained faster video on demand and other service offerings sooner through the merger.
“You will not have as unified of a nationwide service that you would have had if Comcast had that control,” he said. Friedman expects that Charter Communications, another cable company that had taken an interest in Time Warner Cable, might make another push to take over the second largest cable provider.
The proposed merger concerned Harry Hoover, a 62-year-old owner of a Charlotte-based advertising company. Hoover, who lives in Huntersville, N.C., wonders whether the Comcast deal eventually could limit his ability to watch what he wants and when he wants, whether it’s on his television or his computer.
“If you cut the cable from the TV part of the equation, they’ll still control the broadband, so you got a problem getting away from them altogether,” he said. “It just limits choices. And I’m big on choices.”
Comcast did not respond to a request for comment but said in an earlier statement that the deal was not anti-competitive.
“We continue to believe that our transaction with Time Warner Cable will bring substantial benefits to consumers without any competitive harms,” Comcast said in the statement. “We will continue to engage in our productive discussions with the government and do not see any value in commenting on rumors and speculation.”
Steve Effros, a Virginia cable industry analyst, called it premature to declare the deal dead. It’s common, he said, during a transaction of this magnitude for opponents to leak negative reports for a political advantage.
As for criticism that the merged company would be too powerful, he said, “I would simply ask whether Google is too big or Amazon is too big. Clearly, they’re having more impact on the public than Comcast is.”