Senator fears merger could gag the right

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Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) on Wednesday said he is worried that the proposed $45 billion merger between Comcast and Time Warner Cable could lead to a clampdown on conservative media.

The deal would put one massive cable and Internet provider in 27 of the top 30 markets in the country. But perhaps more importantly, that resulting cable giant would also own NBC Universal and its slew of subsidiary channels, which Comcast has owned since 2011. 

That could lead to unfair treatment of some content, Lee warned, including shows appealing to the conservative right.

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“I’ve heard some concerns expressed that the emerging Comcast, the post-merger Comcast, might have the incentive or even the predilection but certainly an enhanced capacity, due to its larger size, to discriminate against certain types of content, including political content,” he said at a hearing with Comcast and Time Warner Cable executives on Tuesday.

Executives at both Comcast and Time Warner have been friendly to the Obama administration and contributed heavily to the president’s party ahead of the 2012 elections. That includes Comcast CEO Brian Roberts, who has donated $76,000 to Democrats since 2006 and was President Obama’s golfing partner during an outing on Martha’s Vineyard last summer.

Lee is the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary subcommittee on antitrust issues. His concern follows speculation from some right-leaning media outlets that the merger of the top two cable companies could be a “Democratic marriage.” 

David Cohen, Comcast’s executive vice president, told Lee that his company would not discriminate against different types of content.

Under the terms of the proposed merger, Comcast would drop about 3 million customers so that it serves no more than 30 percent of the cable market. That percentage of market control has served as a traditional cap to prevent media consolidation, even though Federal Communications Commission rules on the issue have been tossed out by the courts.

“By being under 30 percent we believe we have a compelling argument that the concerns that you’re addressing in your question would not be significant concerns in this transaction,” Cohen said.

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