There’s a whole lot of hate going on in the City of Brotherly Love.
Consumer advocates angry over the proposed merger between Comcast Corp. (NASDAQ:CMCSA) and Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE:TWC) plan to gather in Philadelphia Wednesday to voice their objections outside Comcast’s annual meeting of shareholders. According to Consumers Union, a national advocacy group and one of the most vocal critics of the proposed merger, the protesters will hold a “people’s vote” on whether or not the merger is in the best interest of the public.
In a news advisory Tuesday, the group said it expects a coalition of advocates, Comcast customers and concerned Philadelphians to take part in the demonstration. Consumers Union and other groups have already collected more than 400,000 signatures from merger opponents across the country. With “people’s ballot boxes” in tow, the protesters will be armed with signs, balloons and other promotional material they hope will send a message to the cable giant, the group said.
The proposed merger would give Comcast control of roughly one third of the U.S. pay-television and broadband-Internet market. Critics of the deal have been abundant, with opponents including open-Internet groups like Free Press, trade unions like the Writers Guild of America and politicians like Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn. The merger was first announced in February and is still subject to regulatory approval.
Comcast has argued that the merger should be permitted because it doesn’t compete directly with Time Warner Cable in local markets. In a statement to International Business Times, John Demming, a spokesman for Comcast, called merger a “win” for customers. “The combination of Comcast and Time Warner Cable will bring significant benefits to consumers, including faster Internet speeds, Net neutrality protection, a more reliable and more secure network, low-cost Internet access and more diverse and independent programming to millions of additional Americans across the nation,” he said. It will also bring more investment and technology and new services to more homes and businesses.”
But critics counter that the company would gain unbalanced market leverage to the point of becoming a cable-industry “monopsony,” a buyer with enough power to push down the price it pays for programming and squelch competition from emerging platforms. The merger, much to the dismay of consumer groups, would also combine two companies that regularly rank at or near the bottom of customer-satisfaction surveys.
“This merger is a bad deal for consumers that would give Comcast even greater control of the market and little incentive to improve prices or customer service,” Delara Derakhshani, policy counsel in the Washington office of Consumers Union, said in a statement last month. “It’s no wonder so many consumers are voicing their opposition to this mega-merger.”
Comcast’s meeting of shareholders is slated to begin on Wednesday at 9 a.m. EDT at the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts, located at 300 S. Broad St. in Center City Philadelphia. A webcast of the event will be available online.
The protest will begin at 10 a.m. outside the building. Representatives from Consumers Union, Common Cause, Center for Media Justice, Free Press and the Philadelphia-based Media Mobilizing Project will speak.