FCC restarts clock on Comcast merger as critics renew attack

There is little that’s subtle about America’s giant telecom beast, Comcast, and the same can be said about its critics. Those critics, which include Public Knowledge and industry rival Dish, launched a new campaign on Wednesday called Stop Mega Comcast that is aimed at stopping the company’s plans to get even bigger by swallowing rival Time Warner Cable.

The new flurry of activity comes as the FCC is restarting its 180-day “shot clock,” which had been stopped due to a procedural dispute, and which sets a schedule for the agency to review the merger. The revised timeline could see the process come to a close in the first quarter of 2015.

While there has been little news about the merger in recent weeks, the fight is likely to get more intense as the end date draws closer, and as the future of net neutrality hangs in the air. The two issues are related since the outcome of the net neutrality debate will determine how companies like [company]Comcast[/company] can funnel internet traffic, and whether they will be able to favor certain websites over other.

While most observers initially believed the merger would go through after it was announced last February, the winds may have shifted after FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler made pointed remarks about the need for broadband competition, and as President Obama weighed in on the internet policy debate.

Critics of the merger appear to be trying to ride that momentum, in part through their new Mega Comcast website. The site includes a “Bad Acts” section that purports to chronicle Comcast’s assorted villainies, and lists reasons to stop the merger such as: it would let Comcast control 50 percent of the country’s broadband access, and 91 percent of the Latino market; it would tighten the company’s control over TV programming and set-top boxes; it would give Comcast dominant power over local advertising.

Comcast, meanwhile, appears to be taking the events in stride, publishing a blog post of its own that decries the campaign as a “special interest group,” and stating it will work with the FCC to complete the merger in early 2015.

While the FCC can refuse to approve the merger or to strap onerous conditions onto the deal, the final outcome is likely to be determined by the Justice Department, which has yet to issue a signal as to whether or not it would sue to stop the merger under antitrust law.