UPDATED: The Senate Judiciary Committee hearing into Comcast’s $45.2B acquisition of Time Warner Cable wrapped after three hours today. And Comcast EVP David Cohen upheld his reputation as a lobbying Jedi Master, although critics of the deal scored by pointing out how it could lead to higher prices and problems for independent programmers. Cohen started off strong in his opening statement: He cast his company as the embodiment of the American Dream — and announced that it has more than 1M WiFi hot spots with plans to boost their transmission speeds. “This is the 13th time we’ve increased Internet speeds in 12 years,” he says. Public Knowledge’s Gene Kimmelman — a former Justice Department antitrust lawyer — hit back. He charged that it would be “anathema to Comcast” if programmers want to offer content directly to consumers via the Internet for a low cost. The cable giant is committed to “charging top dollar” and, as owner of NBCUniversal, would be like an octopus with tentacles “each capable of squeezing innovation.”
In regard to pricing, Cohen said, in response to a question from committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), that “there is nothing in this transaction that will make anyone’s bills go up….Consumers today are in the driver’s seat.” He added later that programming costs have appreciated 98% over the last decade. Later he told Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) — who wanted to know whether shareholders would demand higher prices — that “we have made it a point of significant discussion about our need to continue to invest to compete better with national and global competitors.” Kimmelman responded that Comcast is in the driver’s seat in the highly concentrated video and broadband markets. “The squeeze will come from Comcast,” he says. “It’s logical. They want to save money….and it could lead to significant price increases for others.”
Franken had Cohen against the ropes in a discussion about Comcast’s efforts to push customers to buy multiple or upgraded products. “When you train [sales]people to upsell, you’re not training them to sell the stand-alone product.” Cohen said that “we are allowed to train people to upsell,” but sales reps also “have to be aware of the stand-alone product” and provide it on request.