Senators grill Comcast, TWC execs on $45B merger plans

As expected, members of the Senate Judiciary Committee called on Comcast (NASDAQ: CMCSA) and Time Warner Cable (NYSE: TWC) executives to defend a proposed $45.2 billion merger, with at least one senator stating outright, "I am against this deal."

The executives appeared before the committee to explain why they should be allowed to join the nation's biggest and second biggest cable operations.

"If this transaction is approved, it will give us the scale and reach to innovate and compete against our national and global competitors," Comcast Executive Vice President David Cohen said. "There is nothing in this transaction will cause anyone's cable bills to go up."

Minnesota Sen. Al Franken wasn't buying it.

"I'm against this deal," said Franken, a frequent opponent of media consolidation. "I believe this deal will result in fewer choices, higher prices and even worse service for my constituents."

Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy called on Comcast to support "stronger [net neutrality] rules that will protect consumers and drive innovation."

He also questioned a reported "golden parachute" payout for departing TWC execs when the deal goes through. CFO Arthur Minson, who represented the company at the hearing, is expected to receive $27 million and Chairman-CEO Robert Marcus would get $80 million.

"I would say for transactions of this size, for transactions this complex, I would think you would find they are in line," Minson told Leahy, who responded, "You may find not all consumers agree."

Another hot topic was sports programming, especially in markets where Comcast and Time Warner Cable control the local broadcast rights.

"These markets are plagued with anticompetitive conduct," Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal said.

Other opponents of the deal also voiced opinions. Gene Kimmelman, head of Public Knowledge and a former Justice Department antitrust official, voiced concerns about how the large company will control Internet access and online programming.

"If we want more innovative, low-price Internet-delivered services, this merger must be rejected," Kimmelman said.

For more:
- see this Reuters story
- and this Marketwatch item
- and this MSN TV story

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