WASHINGTON, March 12 The U.S. Senate Judiciary
Committee will hold a hearing on Comcast's plan to merge with
Time Warner Cable in April and another on retransmission issues
in late March, the committee said on Wednesday.
Senator Patrick Leahy, who chairs the committee, said the
panel would meet on April 2 to discuss plans by Comcast
, the No. 1 U.S. cable operator, to buy TWC for
$45.2 billion. TWC is the No. 2 U.S. cable operator. Both
companies are major broadband Internet providers.
On March 26, the panel will discuss the Satellite Television
Extension and Localism Act, known as STELA, which expires at the
end of 2014 and tackles, among other issues, the retransmission
of broadcasting content by satellite companies. Congress must
reauthorize the measure.
The planned Comcast merger with Time Warner Cable has raised
eyebrows even though the companies directly compete against each
other in very few markets.
"Millions of Americans rely on cable connectivity to receive
the programs they love and to access the Internet at the fast
speed needed as we conduct more of our lives online," Leahy said
in a statement. "The pending merger is an important opportunity
to examine how Americans access these valuable services."
Critics of the deal say it could give one company too much
power over what Americans see online and watch on television.
Beyond cable, a top executive of Twenty-First Century Fox
Inc raised questions recently about Comcast's potential
dominance of the U.S. broadband Internet market if the deal is
allowed to go through.
Speaking at an investor conference this week, Chase Carey,
president and chief operating officer of Fox, said the broadband
issue was key.
"Is there choice in broadband? Are you really headed toward
every home having simply one broadband provider, and what are
the implications of that?" he asked rhetorically.
The proposed transaction is subject to approval by the U.S.
Federal Communications Commission and the U.S. Justice
The panel's first hearing will focus on STELA, which allows
satellite providers such as Dish and DirecTV to
bring in stations from other markets when subscribers cannot
pick up local stations' signals over the air.
Lawmakers face pressure from broadcasters and cable and
satellite companies, which see the must-pass legislation as a
chance to push for new regulations amenable to them.
It also gives the FCC power to oversee retransmission
consent deals to ensure the negotiations are in good faith. It
expires at the end of 2014.
The House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee
this week started the process with a draft of a bill that has
already come under fire from Democrats who worry it does not
properly address retransmission.