Comcast captures control in California with Time-Warner deal

by Steve Blum • , , , , ,

Comcast’s tentative deal to buy Time-Warner’s cable systems will have a big impact on the politics of broadband in California, to the benefit of incumbents and the detriment of independent competitors.

Time-Warner is the dominant cable operator in the huge Los Angeles market, while Comcast controls the San Francisco Bay Area, along with Sacramento and Fresno. A buyout would give Comcast control of four of the five major media markets in the state – Cox has most of San Diego, and is a distant number two in the LA area.

According to public records collected by the Follow The Money website, Comcast and its employees pumped $1.2 million into Californian political pockets between 2003 and 2012. That includes $285,000 to the democratic party, $95,000 to the republican party and $62,000 to Governor Brown. A total of 183 Californian politicians and 7 ballot measures receive Comcast’s cash. And that doesn’t include contributions from Comcast sponsored astroturfing and lobbying outfits, like the California Cable and Telecommunications Association, the industry’s mouthpiece at the state capitol.

Last year, Comcast was the most aggressive cable company in the fight that ultimately severely watered down legislation to add money to the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) and make more companies and organisations eligible for broadband construction subsidies. Although money was added to the fund, tight restrictions were put on grant and loan applications from independent Internet service providers. Municipal broadband projects were all but locked out of CASF grants and loans.

All cable and telephone companies woo politicians. But Comcast stands out for its relentless hardball tactics at both the local and state level. If it adds Los Angeles to its arsenal, expect nastier battles over broadband policy in California, particularly when Comcast sees an opportunity to limit market competition.