Senate Dems press regulators to block Comcast merger

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A group of Senate Democrats is ramping up pressure on federal regulators to block the $45 billion proposed merger of Comcast and Time Warner Cable. 

If the merger went through, the senators said, the cable giant’s increasing share of the market would “lead to higher prices, fewer choices and poorer quality of service for Americans.”

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“Comcast-TWC’s monopoly power to dictate the terms of transactions with programmers will also force companies from across the country to reevaluate their business models, including the content they produce and the prices they charge,” they wrote.

The senators said a merger would give the company leverage over other cable and satellite distributers in order to “extract higher prices” and “defeat competing TV and Internet companies.”

The call was made in a pair of letters addressed to Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler and Attorney General Eric Holder. It was spearheaded by Sen. Al FrankenAl FrankenDems press ITT Tech to give students right to sue Consumer internet privacy: Leaving the back door unlocked Senators unveil bill to overhaul apprenticeship programs MORE (D-Minn.) and signed by Democratic Sens. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), Ron Wyden (Ore.) and Richard Blumenthal (Conn.) as well as Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.).

Franken has become increasingly vocal in his opposition, penning a Monday op-ed calling for the public to organize against the deal.  

The increasing pressure comes ahead of a reported Justice Department meeting with the two companies on Wednesday over the terms of the deal.

A report last week indicated Justice Department staff were leaning toward recommending the deal be blocked.

It will be the first meeting between the companies and the Justice Department since the deal was first proposed more than a year ago. 

Both the DOJ and FCC are reviewing the proposed merger of the two largest U.S. cable companies and must determine the deal is in the public interest and does not harm competition in order for it to go ahead.

As noted in the letter, the merger would give the company a majority share of the broadband Internet market and about 30 percent of the cable market. The companies have denied the deal would decrease competition, since they operate in separate markets.

Comcast shot back that it has far more video on demand and higher broadband speeds than Time Warner Cable and those benefits would be passed along to new customers. It also touted its subsidized Internet program for people with low incomes. 

"These benefits all come with no reduction in competition for consumers.  We'll serve less than 30 percent of the video market, and only about 30 million of the 87 million broadband subscriptions in the US," the company said in a statement. 

— updated 2:33 p.m.