Comcast offers California a few crumbs

19 April 2015 by Steve Blum
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Not what the CPUC was thinking of ordering.

It’s almost certainly too little, too late, but Comcast has offered a few concessions to the California Public Utilities Commission, in the hopes of gaining approval for its proposed mega-merger and market swap with Time Warner and Charter. According to an article in the Los Angeles Times, Comcast came to a public meeting in LA last week with a much lighter alternative to the long list of conditions proposed by a CPUC hearing officer

On Tuesday the company submitted a list of voluntary commitments that it said would be acceptable. Comcast pledged to provide phone service for poor and disabled residents throughout its service area, provide billing statements in Braille or large print. The company also dropped its previous objections to a request to offer a free phone battery to disabled and low-income customers.

Comcast offered to spend $25 million to extend Internet lines to communities that lack service.

The cable giant also said it would offer its $9.95-a-month “Internet Essentials” program to eligible low-income students and families for at least five years after the merger closes.

It’s a meager offer, compared to the original proposed decision that’s in front of the commission, but it underlines one of the primary reasons that commissioner Mike Florio floated an alternative decision that denies the merger request completely.

Comcast is willing to make a handful of token and temporary gestures, but will otherwise fight any restrictions or requirements that don’t suit its goals. The CPUC’s ability to compel Comcast to do anything is limited, and could be virtually non-existent if legal challenges are successful. As is quite likely.

The harm of giving Comcast monopoly control of broadband and cable TV in the vast majority of California has been well documented. Meaningful mitigation is simply not possible. The best choice left is to reject the deal completely.