Telecom Trade Group Exits Charter-TWC-BHN Opposition

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By Lydia Beyoud

Feb. 5 — The trade group representing the largest U.S. telecom providers said it was pulling out of a coalition of companies opposing a proposed $55.1 million deal to combine Charter Communications Inc., Time Warner Cable Inc. and Bright House Networks Inc.

The United States Telecom Association (USTelecom), with members including AT&T Inc., Centurylink Inc. and Verizon Communications Inc., said it doesn't oppose the deal and is splitting from the group due to a difference on policy positions.

No vote by member companies was necessary on the item, “as our members are all comfortable with the decision for USTelecom not to continue in the coalition,” an association spokeswoman told Bloomberg BNA via e-mail.

The Stop Mega Cable Coalition, formed Jan. 21 by Dish Corp., Cincinnati Bell, NTCA-The Rural Broadband Association, and other consumer and trade groups, is seeking to stop the merger of three of the top 10 multichannel video programming distributors (MVPDs) in the country .

Regulatory approval of the deal would create a duopoly in the U.S. market between Comcast Corp. and “New Charter,” the coalition has said. “That puts these giants in a position to control the fate of new and emerging OTT [over-the-top] services that rely on a robust high-speed broadband connection,” the group said on its website.

The merger would result in the creation of the third largest MVPD provider and second largest broadband Internet provider in the country, according to the FCC.

Merger Conditions

USTelecom pointed to a Nov. 12 ex parte filing with the Federal Communications Commission as laying out its suggested conditions for merger approval.

The trade group asked the FCC to prohibit the merger parties from giving or receiving “any undue preferences” from any other incumbent cable providers. USTelecom also asked for limits on John Malone's influence over the New Charter operations. Malone's company, Liberty Broadband Corp., would be the single largest shareholder in New Charter.

Stop Mega Cable said it would continue to oppose the deal.

“We appreciate the role that USTelecom played in launching this effort and, more importantly, appreciate its persuasive FCC filing outlining some of the harms of this merger,” the group's spokeswoman told Bloomberg BNA via e-mail.

A Charter spokesman declined to comment on the USTelecom announcement.

To contact the reporter on this story: Lydia Beyoud in Washington at lbeyoud@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Keith Perine in Washington at kperine@bna.com

For More Information

Text of the USTelecom ex parte filing is at http://src.bna.com/ctF.