WASHINGTON A majority of Americans are skeptical about the proposed merger of Comcast Corp (CMCSA.O) and Time Warner Cable Inc TWC.N, and they are not convinced the U.S. government is doing enough to prevent monopolies generally, according to a Reuters/Ipsos online poll released on Wednesday.
The poll found that 52 percent of those surveyed believed that mergers such as the Comcast-Time Warner Cable deal result in less competition and are bad for consumers, while 22 percent believe they allow cable and internet providers to be more efficient and provide better service to consumers.
The two rivals said last month they were planning a $45 billion combination that would have just under 30 percent of the U.S. pay television video market and a similar share of the high-speed Internet market. The deal is expected to draw close scrutiny from antitrust enforcers and communications regulators, as well as from members of the U.S. Congress.
"These types of mergers give people pause. They make them a little bit nervous about how it will affect them as consumers," Ipsos pollster Julia Clark said.
The sentiment surrounding another recent U.S. merger, the tie-up of American Airlines (AAL.O) and US Airways into the world's biggest airline, was not quite as cold. The poll found that 42 percent believed it was bad for consumers, while 29 percent felt the opposite way.
The Reuters/Ipsos poll was conducted online from Thursday to Monday. Its results were based on answers from 1,368 Americans.
The data were weighted to the U.S. population by factors such as gender and age. The poll is precise to plus or minus 3 percentage points, based on a measure of accuracy that statisticians call a credibility interval.
Skepticism of the mergers varied significantly based on education level, according to the poll.
For Comcast-Time Warner Cable, 62 percent of people with a college degree or more took a negative view of the deal, but that number fell to 57 percent among people with some college experience and 42 percent among those with none.
The two companies defended their merger, saying it would not remove a competitor from any market because they do not currently overlap.
"In fact, the scale of our combined company will help us to innovate even faster and accelerate the deployment of services such as increased broadband speeds and expanded TV options," Time Warner Cable said in a statement to Reuters.
Comcast spokeswoman Sena Fitzmaurice said in a separate statement that the transaction would bring consumers benefits such as faster Internet speeds, better programming choices and lower costs, "all things that we think consumers will like."
The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee has scheduled a hearing on the cable merger for April 9.
American Airlines said in a statement: "We are taking the best of both US Airways and American Airlines to create a formidable competitor with an expanded network that provides a real choice for global and domestic travel."
MANY WITH NO OPINION
The poll found a significant share of people who did not state a strong opinion about the mergers. For the cable deal, 26 percent said they did not know how they felt, while for the airline deal, 28 percent said they did not know.
Clark said those numbers were above average for a poll about public affairs.
"People are acknowledging that this isn't something that they have enough knowledge about to have a strong opinion," she said.
Although mergers receive significant media attention, antitrust enforcement has not regularly been in the U.S. headlines since a long-running government battle with Microsoft Corp (MSFT.O) beginning in the 1990s.
U.S. mergers and acquisitions above a certain size must be submitted for review to antitrust enforcers, who may seek to block a deal if they believe it would be anticompetitive.
The enforcers at the U.S. Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) try to promote competition in other ways, including criminal investigations into cartel price-fixing or civil inquiries into alleged collusion.
Asked in the poll to evaluate how the federal government was doing preventing monopolies and ensuring competition, 30 percent said they approved and 42 percent said they disapproved. Twenty-eight percent said they did not know.
The answers revealed a significant partisan split, as Democrats approved of the government's job by a 45-33 margin and Republicans disapproved by a 56-23 margin. Enforcement policy has been under the control of Democratic appointees of President Barack Obama since 2009.
An FTC spokesman and a Justice Department spokeswoman declined to comment.
Despite the dissatisfaction, the poll found no consensus about companies that ought to be broken up.
Asked to name a company or industry in the United States where there was an illegal monopoly, common answers included none, government, cable, oil, Microsoft and banking.
Thousands of lawyers, economists and other antitrust experts are converging in Washington, D.C., this week for what is billed as the largest conference on competition law in the world. The meeting of the American Bar Association's antitrust section runs through Friday at a hotel two blocks from the White House.
(Editing by Howard Goller and Ken Wills)