Franken asks Netflix to join fight against Comcast deal

Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) is asking Netflix to weigh in on the proposed merger of Comcast and Time Warner Cable.

In a letter sent Wednesday, Franken asked Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, who recently took to his company's blog to slam Comcast, to "gauge the risks posed by this deal."

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Franken has been one of Congress's most vocal opponents of a deal to combine the country's top two cable companies, which is currently being evaluated by the Department of Justice and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

In a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing last week and television appearances over the weekend, Franken pushed back on the companies' claims that a merger would help them compete against telecoms like AT&T and Verizon and Internet media companies like Netflix.

Instead, Franken said the merger would add to Comcast's market share, giving it too much leverage over customers and Internet content providers.

In his letter, Franken noted the "extensive programming portfolio" — which Comcast acquired when it purchased NBC Universal in 2011 — that makes it a competitor to Netflix.

"There can be no serious doubt that Comcast has an incentive to favor its own content over unaffiliated content, like that produced and distributed by Netflix. ... Nor can there be any serious doubt that Comcast has the power necessary to act on those incentives," he said, citing Comcast's market share across the country.

"If Comcast is permitted to acquire Time Warner Cable, its size will increase dramatically, as it will obtain a presence in 19 of the top 20 markets and will control broadband access for nearly two out of every five American households."

Franken also pointed to a recently announced deal between Comcast and Netflix that allowed Netflix to boost streaming capabilities for its users by connecting directly to Comcast's servers, rather than connect to Comcast through a third party.

While Comcast said the deal was beneficial for both companies, Hastings called it an "abitrary tax" and criticized Comcast for using its market power to extract interconnection fees from Internet companies.

"If incidents like this become the norm — as I fear is more likely if Comcast is allowed to acquire Time Warner Cable — it would have serious implications for consumers," Franken wrote, pointing to increased costs for both Internet companies and Internet users.

He continued, "if Comcast is permitted to throttle Internet traffic, it will be able to undermine consumers' viewing options, steering them from competitiors' offerings to its own."

Comcast and Time Warner Cable say the deal will allow them to compete against Internet programming companies with global audiences, including Netflix.

“We realize, looking three years ahead, five years ahead, 10 years ahead, in order for us to continue to be competitive we need to have the additional scale that comes from this transaction," Comcast Executive Vice President David Cohen told senators last week.

A Netflix spokesman said the company has "received senator Franken's letter and plan[s] to respond to his inquiry."

According to the FCC's filings, lawyers for Netflix have requested access to the unredacted version of Comcast's merger proposal.