Franken pushes DOJ on net neutrality in Comcast merger

Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) is pushing the Justice Department to protect the open Internet as it considers a proposed deal between Comcast and Time Warner Cable.

"I am concerned that Comcast’s proposed acquisition of Time Warner Cable could compromise the open nature of the Internet," Franken said in a letter to the Department of Justice this week.

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Last month, Comcast announced its plans to acquire Time Warner Cable, a deal that would combine the nation's largest cable companies and has already raised antitrust concerns on the Hill.

The deal would extend to Time Warner Cable services the commitments to treat Internet traffic the same that Comcast made when it purchased NBC Universal in 2011.

While the Obama administration's net neutrality rules — which kept Internet providers like Comcast from slowing or blocking access to certain websites — were struck down by a federal court earlier this year and are currently being rewritten, Comcast has noted that its 2011 commitments would encompass more Internet users through an acquisition with Time Warner Cable.

"Comcast’s statements tell only part of the story, however," Franken wrote, noting that those commitments expire in 2018 and do not include "peering" arrangements, or the interconnection deals between Internet companies.

In his letter to the Justice Department, which is evaluating the proposed acquisition, Franken touted the benefits of net neutrality.

"Because of net neutrality and settlement-free peering, the website for a small hardware store in rural Minnesota loads as quickly as the website for a big, national chain ... and an email from a constituent in Duluth gets to me as quickly as an email from my bank," he wrote.

A deal combining the two largest cable companies could harm net neutrality by giving Comcast too much leverage, Franken said.

"I am very concerned that Comcast could use its clout in the broadband market to dictate the content consumers receive and the prices they pay, and these concerns are only intensified by Comcast’s proposal to acquire Time Warner Cable."

Comcast pushed back on Franken's assertions.

In a statement, the company's Vice President of Government Communications, Sena Fitzmaurice, said the "transaction will bring millions more Americans under the Open Internet rules as soon as our deal closes."

By the time the company's net neutrality statements expire in 2018, the Federal Communications Commission will have rewritten its net neutrality rules, she said.

The net neutrality commitment as part of the NBC Universal deal "was always meant as a bridge to enforceable rules that would be applicable to all companies in the industry," she said, adding that Comcast has consistently supported the rules "and is the only company that is currently required to abide by them."

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