Comcast is a particularly nasty competitor at the political level, according to comments filed by CenturyLink with the FCC regarding the proposed mega-merger with Time-Warner (h/t to Fierce Cable for the pointer). Although CenturyLink claims to be the “third largest telecommunications provider in the United States”, it also points out that it’s relatively small player in TV terms – 215,000 subs in 12 markets, it says – due in part to Comcast’s unique influence and combative stance with local governments…
Comcast has been uniquely and extraordinarily aggressive in seeking to delay CenturyLink’s entry into new markets. For example, in the Denver metropolitan area, where CenturyLink is currently pursuing local video franchises, Comcast appears to be sending a similar letter to each local franchising authority [LFA] from which CenturyLink is seeking a franchise or potentially might be seeking a franchise providing Comcast’s “concerns” regarding CenturyLink’s entry into the video market. The “concerns” that Comcast has raised, while couched in terms of “fair competition,” are in reality an effort to have the LFA impose such onerous and unreasonable buildout requirements that the new entrant will not be able to obtain a franchise agreement that will support a feasible business plan….
In Colorado Springs, where CenturyLink ultimately obtained a franchise to provide video service in 2012, Comcast undertook extensive but ultimately unsuccessful efforts to have the Colorado Springs City Council impose onerous buildout requirements on CenturyLink.70 Comcast’s efforts succeeded in causing CenturyLink to spend 20 months to obtain a single franchise.
In CenturyLink’s experience, other providers have not engaged in similar conduct.
CenturyLink’s accusations have a ring of truth. Although it’s been my experience that most incumbents – large or small – will fight their corner when confronted by possible new competition, Comcast is indeed “uniquely and extraordinarily aggressive” when attempting to sway local and state agencies. Amplifying Comcast’s clout in California by allowing it to control as much as 80% of the market here would allow it to bring an intolerable level of political influence to bear on competitors.