Protest mars Comcast shareholder meeting; Sen. Franken seeks clarity on net neutrality abidance

Comcast (NASDAQ: CMCSA) Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Brian L. Roberts sought to serenade the nearly 100 shareholders who showed up at Philadelphia's Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts Wednesday with a story about the media company's momentum as it seeks to gain approval and close out its proposed $45 billion takeover of Time Warner Cable (NYSE: TWC).

Brian Roberts, Comcast


"We start 2014 with the best momentum in the company's history," Roberts told its investors.  "The company truly is at the cross section, the intersection, of technology and media."

But about 50 protestors gathered outside the 75-minute shareholders meeting, loudly voicing their concerns that the proposed transaction will make the top pay TV and Internet services provider in the U.S. too powerful.

"So many people around the country dislike this plan to allow Comcast  to gobble up so many more customers, including in major markets like Los Angeles, said rally co-organizer Hannah Sassaman, to the Los Angeles Times. "Comcast has a monopoly because, in my West Philadelphia neighborhood, I can't get Verizon FiOS. And I'm paying $150 a month for Comcast, and that's a big chunk of our budget.

The Times reported that inside the meeting, a handful of shareholders also took Comcast to task, but few of these complaints had anything to do with the Time Warner Cable deal.

For example, two investors complained about what they view as the company's "liberal agenda," with cable news channel MSNBC now under the Comcast corporate umbrella, not to mention the conglomerate donating campaign money to U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). Of course, Comcast gives plenty of cash to GOP candidates, too.

As Roberts got the business from shareholders, he also had to deal with a publicly leaked letter from his company's harshest critic, U.S. Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), who wanted to know if Comcast intends to keep abiding by the original net neutrality laws adopted by the Federal Communications Commission past 2018.

Of course, those laws were struck down in January by a federal court, but Comcast must abide by them anyway, until 2018, as a condition to the federal government approving its 2010 takeover of NBCUniversal.

"Comcast has made net neutrality a central issue in its affirmative case for the Comcast-TWC deal," Franken wrote. " As such, it should explain fully its intentions with respect to net neutrality, not just for the period that runs from now until 2018."

For more:
- read this Los Angeles Times story
- read this Broadcasting & Cable story

Related links: 
Franken rails against Comcast-TWC merger, says media companies fear retaliation
With Comcast witnesses set for House hearing, Franken seeks input from CCIA