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Netflix, Dish, consumer advocates fight Comcast Time Warner merger

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Netflix has petitioned the FCC demanding that the proposed Comcast and Time Warner merger be stopped. The petition cites both “serious public interest harm,” and “no discernible public benefit,” two important factors for the FCC's consideration.

Netflix cites both harm that it has already suffered at the hands of Comcast or Time Warner Cable and harm that it and others will suffer should the merger be successful. In terms of existing issues, Netflix complained that Comcast has in the past moved Netflix traffic to paid interconnections during heavy use times, using “network congestion” as their justification for the shift. Netflix also argues that the data caps put in place by the two companies are set specifically to deter consumer use of third-party companies like Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Hulu that employ streaming technology.

Comcast and Time Warner Cable have argued that the merger would merely encourage competition in the marketplace. However, many experts seem to agree with Netflix and others that this is a disingenuous argument. First, Comcast and Time Warner Cable are the first- and second-largest internet companies on the market. Their merger would essentially eliminate any alternative for many consumers. Those that would retain some alternative, at least technically, might find whatever alternative remains cost-prohibitive.

Furthermore, DSL offerings from other providers like Verizon are often unable to sustain streaming services like Netflix, again making the Comcast/TWC team the only one in the game. It is also worth noting that both companies sell on-demand video services which are in direct competition with streaming services, giving the merging companies even more incentive to wipe out the alternatives.

Netflix is joined by Dish Network, and both of these groups stand to lose significantly should the merger remain unblocked by the FCC. This alone may be a rebuttal for Comcast and Time Warner. However, Netflix is also joined by numerous consumer advocate groups such as the Writers Guild of America, Public Knowledge, and Watchdog.org.

Various state and federal lawmakers have also raised significant antitrust concerns about the merger. Both California's Public Utilities Commission and New York State officials are launching independent reviews of the merger, citing concern for consumer welfare that the monopolistic merger could have on the states and country.

If the merger does stand, Comcast will maintain 50% ownership of the entire broadband internet marketplace. It will be both a primary creator and distributor of video programming, an unprecedented position in the online ecosystem.

While most issues before the FCC do not seem to be of interest to the general public, the net neutrality issue has begun to be of concern for relatively large numbers of Americans. Internet issues, data management, and similar concerns are all far more pressing for more people today than they were five years ago. Current online discussions surrounding rebranding the issue are ongoing, and the FCC has received record numbers of comments on the merger and extended the deadline for public comments in the wake of the system crashing during the last surge of comments (although it has declined to extend the deadline again).

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