Inquirer Editorial: Comcast deal great for the city

Comcast CEO Brian Roberts Bloomberg
Comcast CEO Brian Roberts Bloomberg
Posted: February 24, 2014

Just days after the news that Comcast Corp. would expand its national reach by more than a third with its proposed purchase of Time Warner Cable, federal communications regulators announced renewed efforts to set much-needed rules to make sure Internet providers like Comcast and Verizon don't install speed bumps that would slow Web traffic like those Netflix movies cord-cutters plan to stream tonight.

The feds' timing is fortuitous, if coincidental. That's because the challenge of preserving an open Internet - as the Federal Communications Commission hopes to do - will be a central issue as the huge Comcast-Time Warner merger seeks required government approvals in the coming months.

With Comcast set to control about 30 percent of the nation's pay-TV business, and possibly an even larger share of landline Internet broadband sales, consumer groups already are calling for the deal to be rejected. They fear a bigger Comcast will have too much sway over pricing and Internet access.

Comcast - whose chief, Brian L. Roberts, says the deal will be "pro-consumer," "pro-competitive," and "in the public's interest" - has offered to spin off several million customers, expand its low-cost Internet offer to Time Warner territory, and grant Web competitors equal speed and access on its network.

Those are important provisions, but regulators may well demand even greater concessions after they scrutinize the proposed deal in detail.

As for the impact on pay-TV consumers, that's less clear. The upgrades in service that Roberts promises long-suffering Time Warner subscribers should be welcome. And new and old Comcast customers alike have to hope the union of two companies too often dinged with customer-service gripes produces less carping and more kudos.

Consumers' view of the deal would be decidedly more upbeat, of course, if there were a pledge that they would share directly - via their monthly cable bills - in the expected merger savings of $1.5 billion. But that's not on the table as yet.

For this region's economy, there's a clear upside to having a bigger Comcast based here. Mayor Nutter applauded the deal for the jobs it is expected to create and for enhancing the city's "reputation and prominence as a technology and innovation leading city." U.S. Sen. Robert P. Casey Jr. (D., Pa.) also applauded the merger's job-generating potential.

Coming on the heels of Comcast's decision to occupy a stunning, second office tower set to rise along Market Street - an expansion that offers the prospect of hundreds of new hires - the Time Warner takeover clearly would strengthen an important player on the city's corporate and civic scene.

Before that can happen, though, regulators need to set terms for any deal that, above all, protect the interests of consumers shopping for the best service and price for broadband Internet, pay-TV programming, and phone service.

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