Franken rails against Comcast-TWC merger, says media companies fear retaliation

Minnesota Sen. Al Franken (D.-Minn.), the only member of the Senate Judiciary Committee to openly oppose Comcast's (NASDAQ: CMCSA) proposed $45.2 billion takeover of Time Warner Cable (NYSE: TWC) during a public hearing last week, took his offensive to the cable airwaves yesterday.

Al Franken, CNN

Franken speaks with CNN's Brian Stelter about the Comcast-TWC merger. View the video. (Source: CNN)

"This is a disaster," Franken said on the CNN show "Reliable Sources. "This is the number one cable TV company buying the number two. And this is the number one Internet broadband company buying the number two."

Franken brushed aside the cable TV aspects of the merger to look more deeply into the repercussions of two giant broadband service providers combining.

"It's most importantly about broadband Internet," Franken said. "And about 30 percent of the country has only one choice in broadband, and another 40 percent has only two choices. That's 70 percent of people in America that have two or fewer choices in Internet broadband. So, if you're getting your TV from DirecTV (NASDAQ: DTV), you still got to get your internet somehow. And if you want to …. watch TV, you need high-speed Internet. And that's Comcast and a combination of Comcast/Time Warner Cable."

Comcast, with executive vice president David Cohen in the lead, has maintained a massive lobbying and public relations campaign in support of the merger.

Not without irony, Franken was among a list of members of Congress to whom Comcast's political contributions were directed. In Franken's case, he accepted $5,000 from Comcast's PAC when he needed a vote recount to get elected to the Senate. Other committee members were more directly involved, according to an ars technica story that listed New York Sen. Chuck Schumer as receiving $35,000, Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy getting $32,500, and Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch receiving $30,000. The money was distributed across the senators' campaign and leadership committees, the article said. Schumer, meanwhile, has recused himself from the merger not because of the contributions but because his lawyer brother worked on the deal.

In all, 17 of 18 committee members received money from Comcast's federal PAC, the story said.

"I think Comcast does give money to people who support them," Franken said during the cable program. "Not necessarily to buy their support, but yes, I really don't like the role of money in politics."

Aside from money, Comcast is already powerful enough to intimidate those who might oppose the merger--among them major media companies who, Franken said, are "afraid of retaliation. They think they are committing business suicide … that they'll be retaliated against, and that shows you what's wrong here."

For more:
- CNN has this video
- ars technica has this story

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