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Competition is usually the best regulator of the marketplace, making the proposed merger of cable behemoths Comcast and Time Warner ill-advised.

The Justice Department and the Federal Communications Commission should step in. The $45 billion deal would cement Comcast’s place as the biggest cable provider by swallowing up the second-biggest company, giving it enormous power to restrict consumer choices for TV and Internet service.

Customers may not notice much difference in the early stages, unless their rates increase markedly. A Comcast official demurred when asked the rate question during a hearing in the Student Union Auditorium on the University at Buffalo’s North Campus in Amherst.

The hearing was conducted by the State Public Service Commission and one of its members raised a question on the minds of nearly every consumer. What about rates? To which a Comcast official gave an unsurprisingly vague answer: “I don’t have that data. With respect to apples to apples, there’s no identical product or service package.”

He’s right about that. But we can assume that when the company standardizes offerings it will lean toward the higher-priced version.

Since the announcement of the sought-after mega-deal, Comcast has set about to persuade the public why it should accept the transaction. The huge market power that this merger will create will reach Western New York cable customers. And too much power in one company’s hands cannot be good for consumers.

These are also issues to be examined, along with Internet access for low-income households. The digital divide should not be widened by a merger between the two companies. As a speaker pointed out, Internet access over cellphones is limited, and does not allow such things as job searches or completion of homework.

Extending broadband in rural areas is also an issue, as representatives of the Niagara Orleans Regional Alliance pointed out.

It wasn’t all criticism of a merger. Comcast had its share of supporters at the meeting, including those representing small and minority businesses.

But reducing competition for an increasingly important service is not in the best interests of consumers.