July 24, 2014 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Cable Company Assembles Comcastic Team

A host of advocacy groups as well as lawmakers and the Communications Workers of America say they will take advantage of the longer comment period to build their case against the sale.

The antitrust division of the Justice Department is also reviewing the deal, although advocacy groups say its process is far more secretive and less accessible to their pleas.

Critics have voiced concerns that the mega-deal would give the company too much control over content and allow it to freeze out Internet-based competition and cable programming.

A number of lawmakers fear the merger would result in job losses in their districts and undermine local and minority programming.

Capitol Backlash

Before the FCC decided to suspend its original deadline, Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, introduced legislation that called for a 45-day extension of the agency’s due date for comments on the merger.

“I am very concerned about the implications this merger has on diversity, localism and competition in today’s media market,” Waters wrote the agency on April 12.

Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), who sits on the Judiciary Committee and who is a former cast member of NBC’s “Saturday Night Live,” has aimed numerous zingers at the proposed merger and even cited his opposition to the sale in an appeal for campaign contributions.

The Communications Workers of America has complained about Comcast’s history of opposing unions, noting that after the company took control of AT&T’s broadband business, the company moved to decertify local union units. To help them fight the sale, the CWA, which spent $225,000 on lobbying in the first quarter of this year, hired Kevin Martin, the former chairman of the FCC who was appointed by George W. Bush and who clashed with the cable company.

Martin chaired the FCC when it ordered Comcast to stop slowing Internet traffic to a file-sharing site, a decision the company challenged in court. Earlier this month, a federal appeals court sided with Comcast in a ruling that many high-tech companies and advocacy groups fear could erode the FCC’s ability to enforce net-neutrality rules.

The legal challenge infuriated a number of lawmakers who have championed the concept of net neutrality, including Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), who chastised Comcast at a recent hearing on broadband.

But Sena Fitzmaurice, Comcast’s vice president for government communications, said the debate over net neutrality should be a separate discussion from the review of the NBC sale. She said the company has posted responses to a number of the attacks leveled by opponents on its websites.

For example, in a blog on one site, comcastvoices.com, David Cohen, Comcast’s executive vice president who oversees government relations, defended the company’s labor record, saying, “we offer fulltime employees health care benefits and company matched 401(k) accounts.”

Cohen added that historically the cable industry had not seen high levels of union organizations. He wrote the decertification elections cited by the CWA was not “anything more than our employees voluntarily deciding that the union they might have wanted to represent them at AT&T was not necessary with Comcast as an employer.”

Even though Comcast spends dramatically more than CWA does on lobbying, Fitzmaurice noted the union generously doles out contributions to lawmakers.

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