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Municipalities Worry Time-Warner Merger Would Hurt the Poor's Internet Access

Portland joined Los Angeles County, Montgomery County (Maryland) and two Minnesota counties in a petition filed with the FCC this week.

By Mike Rogoway

As the Federal Communications Commission weighs whether to allow Comcast's $45 billion takeover of Time Warner Cable, the city of Portland wants its voice heard.

And its voice is saying "no."

Portland joined Los Angeles County, Montgomery County (Maryland) and two Minnesota counties in a petition filed with the FCC this week.

"There is a real prospect that this increased power will be used in a way that dominant companies often use power: to deter competition, increase prices and reduce output," the governments argue in their petition.

Should the FCC approve the deal, the local governments write that it should set conditions on Comcast and other cable companies to:

--Protect local "PEG" (public access, educational and governmental) programming

--Expand Comcast's Internet Essentials program, which offers low-priced Internet service to low-income families, to make broadband more accessible.

--Adopt "net neutrality" principles to ensure the cable companies and Internet providers "cannot evade conditions by create a 'private Internet' to provide content and applications."

--Set standards for customer-service improvements.

--Block Comcast and other companies from enforcing "level playing field" clauses that entitle the established companies to any preferential terms new competitors receive.

Comcast is the only cable TV company in Portland and the largest in the Northwest, with 600,000 customers in Oregon and Southwest Washington. Both Google Fiber and CenturyLink are contemplating their own cable TV service in Portland, and the city has been actively encouraging their efforts.

Time Warner Cable has no presence in Oregon, but a complicated side effect of the takeover would transfer parts of Oregon now served by Charter Communications -- including Roseburg, The Dalles, Bandon, Cottage Grove, Lincoln City, Astoria, Cannon Beach, Medford and Ashland -- to Comcast. That part of the deal also calls on Comcast to transfer service areas in other parts of the country to Charter, part of a deal that Comcast says will preserve competition -- which it hopes will make the takeover more appealing to regulators.

Earlier this summer, Portland Mayor Charlie Hales urged the FCC to adopt strong provisions to enforce "net neutrality" -- the principle that all Internet traffic should be treated equally. A perennially hot topic, net neutrality has grown more contentious after Netflix agreed to pay Comcast a fee for speedier access to Comcast's customers.

Portland's stance on the Comcast-Time Warner deal is at odds with Tualatin Mayor Lou Ogden, who joined 51 other U.S. mayors endorsing the deal in a letter to the FCC this month.

(c)2014 The Oregonian (Portland, Ore.)

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