Comcast discloses attempt at one-on-one back room negotiations in California

28 May 2015 by Steve Blum
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You call those suits?

As it said it wanted to do, Comcast did in fact try to bargain directly with the commissioner assigned to handle the California Public Utilities Commission’s review of its bid to take over Time Warner and Charter cable systems in California. In a disclosure filing that was made public last week, Comcast detailed how a posse of its suits met with commissioner Carla Peterman and two aides for an hour – twice the time originally expected – in March to detail its objections to the conditions the commission was considering if it approved the deal

Comcast described how the conditions in the Proposed Decision could be improved by revising them to be within the parameters of Commission programs with preexisting rules or by establishing metrics that are clearer and easier to measure than what has been proposed. During the meeting the representatives provided some of their initial ideas along these lines to enhance the conditions contained in the Proposed Decision and to address jurisdictional limitations described in detail in their comments.

Those ideas included an outright rejection of many of the proposed conditions, like setting take-up targets for its low income Internet Essentials program. Comcast was willing to “consider committing to upgrade [its broadband] facilities throughout the California service territory to offer at least 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload broadband speeds—including in current video-only systems”, but it wanted to take five years doing it, not the 2 years proposed. That’s assuming “consider” ever became “commit”, which was by no means certain.

Peterman’s response to Comcast’s overtures wasn’t mentioned. A week later, at a regular CPUC meeting, Peterman said no back room deals were being done

Someone expressed some concern that some parties might have unique access through the ex parte process to kind of negotiate or influence decisions and particularly there was a mention of the Comcast Time-Warner proceeding. And so as the assigned commissioner to that proceeding I really wanted to address that head on now in case, you know, it came before all of you and say that’s simply not true. All parties, you know, get the same treatment from me in ex parte meetings and as the assigned commissioner I have conducted this proceeding in an open and transparent manner.

The deal is dead, but the CPUC proceeding lives on. Formal rejection of the merger is scheduled for commission consideration late next month. That vote could go a long ways towards setting standards for the next big California deals in the hopper: Frontier’s acquisition of Verizon’s wireline phone systems and Charter’s take over of Time Warner.