Speakers at CPUC blast then applaud Comcast/Time Warner Cable merger

By Gail Berkley California Black Media

3/5/2015, midnight
The proposed $45 billion Comcast/Time Warner Cable merger was alternately blasted and supported by more than two dozen speakers at ...

The proposed $45 billion Comcast/Time Warner Cable merger was alternately blasted and supported by more than two dozen speakers at the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) hearing held last week in San Francisco.

In a lengthy public comment portion of the meeting, representatives of non-profits serving African Americans and other people of color, chambers of commerce, consumer advocacy and media groups from throughout the state weighed in on the merits of the proposed merger. If approved, Comcast would be the dominant internet and cable-TV provider in the state with 1.8 million cable TV subscribers in the Los Angeles region alone.

On Feb. 13, Administrative Law Judge Karl J. Bemesderfer recommended that the CPUC vote to approve the merger, if Comcast would agree to a set of conditions aimed at assuring that the proposed merger is in the publics best interest.

Speakers in support of Comcast at the CPUC included, Amos Brown, D.D. president of the San Francisco Branch of the NAACP, Lisa Williams, state education chairperson for Black Women Organized for Political Action, and Diane Gray, a member of the San Francisco Alliance of Black School Educators.

Brown, Williams, Gray and other speakers from Asian and Latino organizations praised Comcast’s support of their organizations’ events and initiatives via corporate sponsorship dollars. Brown said Comcast has been a worthy corporate citizen and “has been about spreading enrichment in underserved communities.”

Comcast’s Internet Essentials program, designed to help close the digital divide by providing low-cost internet service to low income families with school aged children also drew wide support from African American speakers and others representing Latinos, Asians and immigrant communities.

One of Judge Bemesderfer’s recommendations was that Comcast agree to offer its $9.95-a-month Internet Essentials program to eligible low-income families within its proposed new service area in Southern California. Comcast would have to provide service to 45 percent of the targeted low-income homes within two years after absorbing Time Warner Cable systems.

Those opposed to the merger say it will create a monopoly and will stifle competition in the lucrative video industry.

A spokesperson for the Writers Guild of America West, representing 8,000 writers of feature films, TV and internet content, said the proposed merger would harm its membership and consumers and limit opportunities for upstream content makers to tell diverse and unique stories.

Those concerns were echoed recently in a $20 billion lawsuit filed by Producer Byron Allen’s Entertainments Studios and the National Alliance of African American Owned Media against Comcast, Time Warner Cable, The Rev. Al Sharpton, the NAACP and the National Urban League.

The discrimination lawsuit, filed in Los Angeles federal court on February 20, alleges that Allen’s company which includes such digital channels as Justice Central, Cars.TV and Comedy.TV, has been denied the ability to get distribution on cable systems owned by Comcast and Time Warner. Rev. Sharpton who hosts a television program on Comcast’s, CNBC, the NAACP and the Urban League were all named as defendants in the lawsuit because they’ve all received contributions from Comcast, according to the Los Angeles Times.