Why the Massive Cable Merger Might Be Good for Net Neutrality

Allowing Comcast to buy Time Warner could mean less online discrimination.

National Journal
Brendan Sasso
Add to Briefcase
See more stories about...
Brendan Sasso
Feb. 13, 2014, 9:02 a.m.

Con­sumer ad­vocacy groups are already mount­ing their cam­paign to try to kill Com­cast’s $45 bil­lion bid to buy Time Warner Cable. But the deal might ac­tu­ally be good for one of con­sumer ad­voc­ates’ top causes: net neut­ral­ity.

The D.C. Cir­cuit Court of Ap­peals struck down the Fed­er­al Com­mu­nic­a­tions Com­mis­sion’s net-neut­ral­ity rules last month. The rules, form­ally called the Open In­ter­net Or­der, re­quired In­ter­net ser­vice pro­viders to treat all web­sites equally. Lib­er­als and con­sumer ad­voc­ates fear that with the rules gone, In­ter­net pro­viders could start slow­ing down ac­cess to sites like Google and Net­flix un­less the sites pay for spe­cial In­ter­net “fast lanes.” The pro­viders could even block ac­cess to par­tic­u­lar sites al­to­geth­er.

But even with the rules thrown out, there is one ma­jor broad­band pro­vider that won’t be able to dis­crim­in­ate against In­ter­net traffic any­time soon: Com­cast. To re­ceive ap­prov­al from the FCC three years ago to buy NBC-Uni­ver­sal, Com­cast agreed to a slew of con­di­tions, in­clud­ing prom­ising to abide by the agency’s net-neut­ral­ity rules un­til at least 2018 no mat­ter what happened in the courts.

Com­cast said Thursday that it will ex­tend that com­mit­ment to all Time Warner Cable sub­scribers if the mer­ger is ap­proved.

So while the fed­er­al courts have said the FCC over­stepped its leg­al au­thor­ity with the net-neut­ral­ity rules, about 30 mil­lion U.S. house­holds would still be pro­tec­ted from on­line dis­crim­in­a­tion if Com­cast and Time Warner are al­lowed to merge.

“Those In­ter­net con­di­tions would ap­ply Day One,” Com­cast CEO Bri­an Roberts said on a con­fer­ence call with re­port­ers. “I think it’s un­ar­gu­able that’s bet­ter than where the court just va­cated that rule for every oth­er” In­ter­net ser­vice pro­vider.

The deal would also be an op­por­tun­ity for the FCC to force the com­pan­ies to ac­cept new agree­ments, such as ex­tend­ing the net-neut­ral­ity com­mit­ment well bey­ond 2018.

Dav­id L. Co­hen, Com­cast’s ex­ec­ut­ive vice pres­id­ent, sug­ges­ted that the com­pany is open to ne­go­ti­at­ing ad­di­tion­al con­di­tions, in­clud­ing the length of the net-neut­ral­ity com­mit­ment. He ad­ded that Com­cast sup­ports the net-neut­ral­ity reg­u­la­tions and plans to work with the FCC to re­write the rules in a way that can sur­vive court chal­lenges.

“Well be­fore 2018, I think the FCC is go­ing to have a new re­gime in place to provide the same level of con­sumer pro­tec­tion and con­sumer be­ne­fit that the ori­gin­al Open In­ter­net Or­der provided,” he said.

But con­sumer ad­voc­ates ar­gued that net-neut­ral­ity con­di­tions won’t be enough to out­weigh the com­pet­it­ive harm of the deal.

“I think net-neut­ral­ity rules are im­port­ant, which is why they should be in­dustry-wide and shouldn’t ex­pire after a few years,” said John Bergmay­er, a seni­or staff at­tor­ney for Pub­lic Know­ledge. “I think even say­ing that these con­di­tions would be ‘bet­ter than noth­ing’ sig­ni­fic­antly over­sells the case.”

Matt Wood, policy dir­ect­or for Free Press, said the FCC should en­act tough net-neut­ral­ity reg­u­la­tions, not try to ne­go­ti­ate for a tem­por­ary com­mit­ment from one com­pany.

“We don’t need a few more years of ap­ply­ing the old rules to a big com­pany or two — es­pe­cially not in re­turn for a near-na­tion­wide cable TV and ISP mono­poly,” he said.

What We're Following See More »
FCC Tightens Internet Privacy Standards
11 hours ago

Along party lines, the Federal Communications Commission on Thursday voted to tighten privacy standards for Internet service providers. "The regulations will require providers to receive explicit customer consent before using an individual’s web browsing or app usage history for marketing purposes. The broadband industry fought to keep that obligation out of the rules."

Clinton Up 9 in USA Today Poll; Up 3 According to Fox
16 hours ago

A new USA Today/Suffolk University poll finds Clinton leads Trump by 9 points nationwide, 47% to 38%. A Fox News national poll has Clinton up just three points, 44% to 41% over Trump.

Cruz: Eight Justices Could Be an Ongoing Situation
18 hours ago

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) said that "there was “precedent” for a Supreme Court with fewer than nine justices—appearing to suggest that the blockade on nominee Merrick Garland could last past the election." Speaking to reporters in Colorado, Cruz said: "I would note, just recently, that Justice Breyer observed that the vacancy is not impacting the ability of the court to do its job. That’s a debate that we are going to have.”

DNC Sues RNC Over Trump’s Rigged Vote Comments
21 hours ago

The Democratic National Committee sued the Republican National Committee in U.S. District Court in New Jersey for aiding GOP nominee Donald Trump as he argues that the presidential election is "rigged." The DNC claims "that Trump's argument is designed to suppress the vote in minority communities."

Clinton Foundation Staffers Steered Biz to Bill
1 days ago

"Two chief fundraisers for the Clinton Foundation pressed corporate donors to steer business opportunities to former President Bill Clinton as well, according to a hacked memo published Wednesday by WikiLeaks. The November 2011 memo from Douglas Band, at the time a top aide to Mr. Clinton, outlines extensive fundraising efforts that Mr. Band and a partner deployed on behalf of the Clinton Foundation and how that work sometimes translated into large speaking fees and other paid work for Mr. Clinton."


Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.