Mike Lee: $45B Comcast Merger Could Block Conservative Media

Comcast’s proposed $45 billion buyout of Time Warner Cable could give NBC Universal the power to block conservative political media, Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) warned during a congressional hearing Wednesday.

Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah pauses while speaking at the Conservative Political Action Committee annual conference in National Harbor, Md., Thursday, March 6, 2014. Thursday marks the first day of the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, which brings together prospective presidential candidates, conservative opinion leaders and tea party activists from coast to coast.(AP Photo/Cliff Owen) AP Photo/Cliff Owen
Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, pauses while speaking at the Conservative Political Action Committee annual conference in National Harbor, Md., Thursday, March 6, 2014. (AP)

“This is an extremely large transaction, affecting both the video market and the Internet market,” Lee said. “A complicating factor arises given that Comcast owns NBC Universal.”

“Considering the significant share of the video and Internet market that the new Comcast would have, and considering the well-known political leanings of NBC, I’ve heard concerns that Comcast might have the incentive and the ability to discriminate against certain political content, including, for example, conservative political content,” he said, adding that the capacity to do this “could be significantly enhanced as a result of this transaction.”

If Congress approves the billion-dollar merger, the two largest cable providers in the U.S. will combine to hand Comcast control of more than half of American cable subscribers.

“The proposed merger between Comcast and Time Warner has implications for two markets that affect the everyday lives of most Americans,” Lee said, adding that approximately 90 percent of U.S. households with a television pay for a television subscription while roughly 70 percent adults over the age of 18 have broadband access in their homes.

Lee said that the proposed merger could pose a threat to competition in among providers, encouraging his colleagues to be mindful of the “competitive state of these markets.”

“This transaction takes place against the backdrop of significant pre-existing concerns with respect to the competitive state of the market for video and for broadband Internet,” Lee said. “I have heard concerns for some time that the effects of robust competition, whether experienced in terms of pricing or quality of service, are not currently enjoyed in these markets.”

The Utah senator also said that transaction raises concerns about the future of Internet service.

“Internet, in particular, is of obvious importance to American families and to businesses … the combined company will potentially control greater than 50 percent of high-speed Internet access across the country,” he said. “Markets do change quickly, and government must be careful not to step in where economic forces will better direct and incentivize future investment and development of new products.”

“But where the stakes are high—and surely they are high with respect to Americans’ access to the Internet—any potential for anticompetitive effects or for undue control of that market must be scrutinized very carefully,” he added.

Lee concluded by stressing the importance of free market competition and reminding members of Congress that they’re not in the business of protecting one business over another:

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