Franken warns merger would give Comcast 'unprecedented' power

Comcast’s proposed $45 billion merger with Time Warner Cable would give the company "unprecedented" power, Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) warned the Federal Communications Commission on Monday.

Franken, who is up for re-election this year, told the FCC in a formal comment that the combination of the country's two largest cable companies “would position Comcast as a veritable gatekeeper over vast swaths of the nation's telecommunications industry, resulting in higher prices, fewer choices, and worse service for consumers in Minnesota and across the country."

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“The proposed acquisition also would threaten innovation and economic activity on the Internet, and it would jeopardize the free flow of information and ideas on which our democracy depends,” he added in his 40-page filing. “Because the proposed acquisition does not advance the public interest — but, rather, is inimical to it — it must be rejected.”

The former “Saturday Night Live” star has been a vocal critic of media consolidation and has repeatedly urged regulators to block Comcast’s purchase of Time Warner Cable.

He said in his FCC filing that executives have “no good answer” as to whether the merger would lead to lower bills for subscribers. In fact, the companies have told lawmakers that the deal might not reduce the cost of Internet, cable and phone service, but argue the combination is necessary to compete against new companies such as Netflix and Amazon.

In a blog post on Monday, a top Comcast executive said the merger would give the companies “the increased scale to invest and innovate more” in their networks. 

If the merger were to be approved by the FCC and the Justice Department, Comcast would have business in 19 of the country’s top 20 markets and control about 40 percent of all broadband Internet subscriptions and one-third of all TV subscriptions in the U.S., Franken noted.

“That amount of power is unprecedented,” he wrote.

Monday is the FCC’s deadline for the first round of comments on the proposed merger. The next batch of comments is due Sept. 23, and final messages are due on Oct. 8.