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Comcast, Oceanic propose merger

Hawaii cable customers stand to benefit from a planned merger of Oceanic Time Warner and Comcast Corp., according to a joint filing by the companies.

“The combination of Comcast and TWC will create a world-class communications, media, and technology company significantly better positioned than either company alone to bring consumers the advanced services they want now and will need in the future and to keep America at the forefront of technology and innovation,” reads the application, which seeks the transfer of control of Oceanic’s Hawaii cable franchises from Time Warner Cable to Comcast Corp.

The plans for the companies’ nationwide $45 billion merger have raised eyebrows since its announcement in February, largely because of the sheer size of the companies involved and a perceived shortage of competition in their various markets.

Many consumer advocacy groups have called for the merger to be blocked by the Federal Communications Commission and the U.S. Department of Justice, saying such a union of the two largest cable providers in the country would negatively impact consumers.

“The consolidation of the largest cable television providers would create a media juggernaut that would stifle competition and hurt consumers who would ultimately pay higher prices for even worse service,” wrote John M. Simpson, director of the Consumer Watchdog Privacy Project, in separate March letters to the Justice Department and the FCC.

Applications similar to the one before Hawaii’s DCCA have been filed in states around the country, said DCCA communications officer Brent Suyama. The Hawaii DCCA decision — anticipated to be made sometime close to Sept. 19 — would only apply to Oceanic franchises within the state. But before that decision is made, state residents will have a chance to weigh in on the change in ownership.

“A lot of people believe that it’s not worth speaking to something like this,” Suyama said. “(They think) these are two mega companies and they’ll push this thing through no matter what. I can understand that sentiment. But, this is an opportunity for us (the DCCA) to ask questions … and really try to look comprehensively at how this new company will envision itself being a part of these communities, and what they’ll be able to provide.”

Residents are being asked to say what they like or don’t like about their current cable service, what services they’d like to see, or what they think their service is lacking, he said.

A series of public hearings about the merger will kick off at 4:30 p.m. Monday, July 14, at the West Hawaii Civic Center in the Community Meeting Hale. The windward side of the Big Isle will have its say two days later on Wednesday, July 16, at 4:30 p.m. at the Aupuni Center Conference Room in Hilo.

Those who can’t make it to the meetings also are able to submit testimony before and after, via email at cabletv@dcca.hawaii.gov, via fax at (808) 586-2625 or via mail at:

Cable Television Division

Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs

P.O. Box 541

Honolulu, HI 96809

Following the meetings, the DCCA’s Cable Advisory Committee will meet to discuss the transfer application and the public hearings, and then forward its recommendation to DCCA Director Kealii S. Lopez, who will issue a final decision on the application, Suyama said.

For more information about the merger application before the Hawaii Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs, visit http://cca.hawaii.gov/catv/cable_operators/comcast-time-warner-merger/

A similar joint petition for approval of the transfer was filed in April with the state Public Utilities Commission and remains open. A spokesman for the PUC did not immediately return a Wednesday afternoon phone call seeking more information.

Email Colin M. Stewart at cstewart@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

 

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