To help regulators swallow the idea of a merger between Comcast and Time Warner Cable — the nation's two biggest cable companies — Comcast needs to prove that it can uphold any commitments or sacrifices it agrees to a part of the deal. As if to drive that point home, the company said on Monday that it had met or exceeded all of the obligations it accepted as conditions of a key, previous merger with NBC-Universal in 2011.
The company compliance report comes days after Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) wrote a letter to federal regulators accusing Comcast of failing to meet its requirements in the NBC-Universal merger of 2011.
"It's not unlike a political campaign where somebody is in a process that's going to be prolonged," said industry analyst Jeff Silva. "You want to respond to any negative aspersions cast your way, because you never know how the momentum is going to swing."
Beginning with a requirement to expand broadband access to low-income families, Comcast said its Internet Essentials program connected its millionth user in October. The program makes the Web available for $10 a month to families of students that qualify for free or discounted school lunches. Another requirement of the merger was that Comcast add 1,500 miles' worth of cable to its broadband network every year for three years; Comcast says it's built 6,289 miles — meeting the deadline and besting the requirement by 41 percent.
Other conditions of the merger included building out programming for minorities and people with disabilities. Last year, the company said, it increased the amount of diversity programming by 50 percent to 2,900 hours across its online and video-on-demand services.
"It is simply indisputable that we have honored – in fact, over-delivered – on our commitments," wrote Comcast Executive Vice President David Cohen in a blog post. "And we’ll continue to do so."
Comcast wouldn't comment on whether the report is aimed directly at easing the regulatory hurdles the company faces at the Justice Department (and potentially the Federal Communications Commission) over its proposed merger with Time Warner Cable. Still, said Comcast spokeswoman Sena Fitzmaurice, the periodic compliance disclosures show that the company is generally serious about upholding its end of the bargain.
"Like our previous reports, this one shows that we work hard to meet and exceed our merger agreements," Fitzmaurice said.
In its latest merger proposal, Comcast has vowed to shed 3 million of Time Warner Cable's 11 million subscribers and to treat all of its customers' Internet traffic equally according to net neutrality principles.
Those who look back at the history of telecommunications might point out that some of these commitments, particularly the ones about reaching underserved communities, were once the voluntary norm — at least for phone service. The fact that companies now make the same promises but expect substantial rewards in return for fulfilling them underscore how far we've come from that era.