RFD-TV founder among voices of opposition to cable merger

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Posted: Friday, May 9, 2014 12:00 am

WASHINGTON — RFD-TV founder Patrick Gottsch joined other cable and Internet company executives Thursday in telling a House antitrust panel they vigorously oppose the proposed merger between Comcast and Time Warner Cable because it would hurt competition.

Gottsch said continued consolidation in the cable industry threatens diversity in rural independent programming. RFD-TV, part of Omaha-based Rural Media Group, offers multimedia content “dedicated to the Western lifestyle,” including agriculture market reports and Western sports and entertainment.

Gottsch said Comcast dropped RFD-TV in Colorado and New Mexico after a merger with NBCUniversal because it competed with Comcast programming aimed at the same demographic. Gottsch fears the programming would be eliminated in more markets if this merger is allowed. Programming that serves an older, rural audience is at risk “as a consolidating industry rushes to attract age 18-34 viewers in urban areas,” he said.

A number of witnesses who are vigorously opposed to the merger emphasized what they said were the negative effects of the merger on competition in the market for cable television and high-speed Internet service.

“This merger is bad news for the cable industry,” Dave Schaeffer, chief executive of Cogent Communications, said in written testimony, highlighting one of the reasons he believes that Comcast’s proposed acquisition of Time Warner Cable should be blocked.

“But this merger is less about cable than it is about the future of the Internet,” he said.

Cogent, one of the largest Internet infrastructure companies, said that Comcast’s control of the NBC broadcast network, a slew of cable television channels, the largest collection of cable subscribers and the biggest collection of high-speed Internet customers, showed that “Comcast’s strategy is to get everyone to pay them.”

David Cohen, a Comcast executive vice president, said that he understood the opposition but that it was misguided.

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