Comcast tells CPUC to unring the bell

17 May 2015 by Steve Blum
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Coming from Philadelphia and all, Comcast thinks it knows about bells.

The California Public Utilities Commission is scheduled to vote on Thursday on whether or not to deny Comcast permission to take over Time Warner and Charter cable systems in the state. On the one hand, it is pretty pointless because the companies have cancelled the mega deal. On the other, it matters because the basis for rejecting the merger rests on a particular interpretation of federal law that, if accepted, gives the CPUC authority to “encourage the deployment on a reasonable and timely basis of advanced telecommunications capability to all Americans” by evaluating the effect of corporate telecoms deals and other transactions on broadband infrastructure and services in California.

Comcast just wants the whole thing to go away. If the CPUC meaningfully claims its jurisdiction over Californian Internet service providers, life will be far more complicated – read expensive – for Comcast here in the Golden State. So Comcast is telling the CPUC “nothing in [federal telecoms law] expressly ‘requires’ a state commission to take any regulatory action with respect to broadband services”.

There’s another consideration on the table, too. If the whole Comcast proceeding simply evaporates, then the myriad intervenors – advocacy and/or lobbying groups that have jumped into the controversy – might not be able to claim compensation for their efforts from either Comcast or the CPUC. Under Californian law, those groups can ask for – and almost always get – sums frequently in the six figure range, often for work that’s of dubious benefit. In its filing, Comcast concedes it’s willing to pay a “reasonable” amount. That would be a lot cheaper than an eternity of oversight as a broadband common carrier.

Compensation for organisations that make a living off of CPUC proceedings is a red herring. The right thing to do is to close the loop by denying the Comcast deal and baking the facts and the legal basis into a formal decision.