Senator Al Franken has repeatedly warned of the dangers presented by Comcast's proposed acquisition of Time Warner Cable, and today he repeated those concerns in a letter to Netflix CEO Reed Hastings. If regulators clear the purchase, Franken said he fears it will give Comcast "the power and the incentive to act as a gatekeeper on the internet, raising costs and limiting choices for consumers." According to Franken, Hastings and Netflix are "uniquely positioned to gauge the risks" posed by the Comcast's TWC buyout.
Part of what gives them that unique perspective is the controversial deal Netflix recently struck with Comcast. Franken says the "interconnection agreement" is evidence that the cable provider isn't looking out for consumers. "My understanding is that Comcast's consumers and the press documented problems streaming Netflix videos over Comcast's broadband networks," Franken said, "and that Netflix ultimately had to pay Comcast an undisclosed sum to resolve the issue." Franken is worried that these situations could "become the norm" if the acquisition is approved. Comcast has repeatedly said that its customers wouldn't put up with such treatment, but Franken isn't satisfied with that defense — largely owing to the lack of true competition a combined Comcast / Time Warner Cable would face.
Franken fears Comcast will 'use its clout in the broadband distribution market to obtain an anticompetitive edge in the content market'
Franken has asked Hastings to answer a series of questions pertaining to the deal. First, he wants to know whether the deal would grant Comcast increased leverage to "extract payments from non-affiliated entities" like Netflix and other services that deliver content to consumers over broadband. He also wants Hasting's take on what Comcast has previously said about interconnection deals — such as the one with Netflix. And finally, Franken wants an honest answer from Hastings on whether he believes Comcast truly faces a "competitive marketplace." Franken's letter offers no deadline for a response from Hastings, so it's not clear when the CEO will choose to respond. He's already publicly commented on net neutrality, and some of Franken's questions could prompt Hastings to expand on those thoughts.
In response to critics, Comcast has repeatedly highlighted the Open Internet rules it's permitted to follow until 2018; the company says it expects new FCC rules covering net neutrality to be in place by then, rendering many of these concerns irrelevant.