Will Comcast’s proposed merger with Time Warner Cable give New Yorkers better cable television and telephone service? Or will it create a monopoly that strangles competition and jacks up monthly bills?
Those questions were addressed Monday evening in the Student Union Auditorium on the University at Buffalo’s North Campus in Amherst in a hearing conducted by the State Public Service Commission and attended by about two dozen people.
But the greatest concern was an area where the PSC yields to federal regulations – broadband Internet service. The merger would make Comcast the nation’s largest Internet provider.
Mark E. Reilly, Comcast’s senior vice president of government affairs for the Northeast Division, spoke first. Referring to the merger as a “transaction,” he said customers would see more reliable broadband, a greater selection of TV channels and higher-quality telephone service.
Reilly noted that since 2010, Comcast had improved its J.D. Power customer-satisfaction score “more than any video or broadband provider in the United States.”
“As seen in our previous transactions,” he added, “we are a company that not only keeps, but overdelivers on our promises.”
What he said he couldn’t promise, however, was whether the merger would result in lower monthly bills.
Asked about rates by Commissioner Gregg C. Sayre, Reilly said, “I don’t have that data. With respect to apples to apples, there’s no identical product or service package.”
Counterpoint came from the man sitting next to Reilly – Phillip M. Dampier, of Rochester, who founded a website, stopthecap.com, to challenge Time Warner’s bid to charge Internet users extra for high volumes of data.
He challenged Comcast for its “dysfunctional record with customers,” noting that it was near the bottom of the ranking by Consumer Reports.
“Since 2007, the president (of Comcast) has acknowledged the problems and promises to do better,” Dampier said, “but it still has the worst customer satisfaction of any big agency in the country, including the IRS.”
He also took Comcast to task for its high-end rate for Internet service, noting that Time Warner charges $57.99 monthly for a 50-megabyte service, while Comcast charges $69.95 monthly for 25 megabytes, and for the severe restrictions on who can qualify for Comcast’s cut-rate service for low-income households.
Also concerned about Internet access for low-income households were Aaron Bartley, executive director of PUSH Buffalo, and Christine Carr, executive director of Computers for Children, who said that 60 percent of her clients don’t have an Internet connection.
“They use their phones,” she said, “but the phones don’t allow them to do job searches or get school homework.”
Niagara County Legislator David E. Godfrey, R-Wilson, and Orleans County Legislator Lynne M. Johnson, R-Lyndonville, representing the Niagara Orleans Regional Alliance, cited the need for extending broadband service to rural areas.
Speaking in support of Comcast for fostering small and minority businesses were National Black Chamber of Commerce co-founder and President Harry C. Alford and Lynn Marie Finn, president of Superior Workforce Solutions, who also praised Comcast’s assistance to the group Women Impacting Public Policy.
The PSC will hold two more hearings – Wednesday in Albany and Thursday in New York City – and take comments until July 31 through its toll-free number, (800) 335-2120, and by email at email@example.com, referencing “Case 14-M-0183, Petition of Comcast Corporation and Time Warner Cable Inc.”