U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree of Maine stepped up her efforts to block the proposed merger between Comcast and Time Warner, the nation’s two largest cable TV and Internet providers, by sending a two-page letter of protest Wednesday to the U.S. Attorney General’s office and the Federal Communications Commission.
Both offices have the power to review the proposed $45.2 billion merger, and to block it. Time Warner Cable is Maine’s largest cable TV and Internet provider, with more than 300,000 customers in the state.
Pingree wrote that she opposes the merger because it will stifle competition, leading to higher prices and less choice for TV and Internet users. She noted the merger will lead to a company that would control one-third of the country’s cable TV market.
“The anti-competitive effect of such a large player in the market for both cable television and the future of a free and open Internet seems obvious, and the public interest in affordable cable prices and an Internet that is fully open to innovation requires disapproval of this deal,” Pingree wrote.
Last week, Pingree posted a message on the website of the social action group CREDO asking people to sign a petition to Attorney General Eric Holder. The petition had more than 128,000 signatures Wednesday.
In the follow-up letter Pingree says the merger would be “bad for the American consumer.”
A call to the FCC for comment Wednesday afternoon was not returned. The Attorney General’s Office said last week it would not comment on the proposed merger, which was announced in mid-February.
Both the FCC and the attorney general must sign off on the merger, certifying that it is in the public interest and does not violate antitrust laws. It’s not clear when that will happen. The Senate Judiciary Committee plans to examine the merger’s potential impact on consumers March 26.
Media analysts have said the merger would force others in the cable and telecommunications industry to consolidate, as companies face pressure to compete for customers and programming strength.
The company created by the merger of Comcast and Time Warner would have about 30 million paying TV customers.
Pingree, a Democrat, said in an interview Wednesday she decided to send the letter as a way to use her “standing as a member of Congress” to make her opinions on the merger known to the oversight agencies.
Pingree said she has sent letters to government agencies many times before, related to issues she felt strongly about, including food safety and local farming.
She thinks the Comcast/Time Warner merger would be especially bad for people in Maine, where broadband Internet access is not universal. An Internet provider with a “last-mile monopoly in large swaths of the country” would have little incentive in investing in expanded service to rural areas, she said.
As Internet providers grow, she said, they could institute changes that would curb innovation and hurt consumers, such as charging for how much video they stream or giving preference to certain content providers.
“There are already so few Internet providers, creating even fewer can’t be good for consumers,” Pingree said.
Pingree is married to S. Donald Sussman, the majority share owner of MaineToday Media, which owns the Portland Press Herald, the Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel.
Staff Writer Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at: