Klobuchar and Franken raise questions about Comcast-Time Warner merger, vow hearings

WASHINGTON - The newly-announced merger of cable companies Comcast and Time Warner will get scrutinized by Minnesota lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

Comcast is the dominant cable provider in Minnesota and the combined company would have an estimated 30 million subscribers, making it by far the largest cable provider in the U.S. with an estimated 30 percent market share. Moreover, both companies are major providers of broadband internet and telephone services.

Today DFL U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar promised to hold hearings on the antitrust implications of the planned merger. In a statement, she said the combination could have "a significant impact on the cable industry." Klobuchar's role as the chair of a Senate antitrust committee gives her a platform to hold hearings and pressure the two companies to make consumer-friendly promises. A proposed 2011 merger between cell phone carriers AT&T and T-Mobile foundered in part following a similar hearing during which the two companies denied they were competitors.

Fellow DFL Sen. Al Franken wrote regulators to say he has "serious reservations" about a new giant cable company. Franken's concerns center around Comcast's potential market power following a merger. In a letter to the Attorney General and the chairs of the Federal Communications Commission and Federal Trade Commission, Franken noted that, "cable rates have risen significantly over the last two decades, and my constituents express frustration at being squeezed by unacceptably high cable bills every month."

Comcast has already successfully run the antitrust gauntlet in recent years, acquiring NBC Universal in 2011 in a move that brought together the resources and reach of a major TV network with Comcast's reach into many American households. Franken opposed that merger and cited concerns that Comcast was not complying with regulators' terms for that agreement as part of his opposition to this latest merger.

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