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MS-friendly Comcast buys AT&T Cable

New colossus to dwarf AOL Time Warner

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Comcast will buy AT&T cable for $47 billion in stock and $25 billion in liabilities, creating a cable behemoth twice the size of AOL Time Warner, it was confirmed late Wednesday.

Cox Communications and AOL-TW had also entertained hopes during the months-long bidding competition, but fell shy of the mark. Good news for Microsoft, which backed Comcast in hopes of seeing a Redmond-friendly custodian of all that wire and fiber, which will reach 22 million US residences and businesses.

The joint custody arrangement has been worked out with AT&T's Michael Armstrong as Chairman of the new entity, and Comcast's Brian Roberts as its CEO.

Armstrong, we may recall, allowed himself to be mesmerized by the New Economy hype and was given to giddy bouts of optimistic techno-patois in which he predicted many great things for AT&T Cable, few of which ever materialized.

While Wall Street never quite approved of the IBM salesman turned corporate chairman, we reckon he's since learned that consumers can't, in fact, be forced to buy absolutely anything so long as it's marketed as 'technological'.

He promised too much and delivered too little, like any consummate salesman. And like any master of that particular art form, his biggest dupe was often himself. So he paid $110 billion for AT&T Cable, and is now selling it for just over $70.

The world didn't beat a path to AT&T's door, obviously because cable isn't a better mousetrap. It's good content and fast, cheap Internet access and well-maintained lines and competent customer service -- fundamentals where Comcast is at least good, and sometimes very good.

This could end up some comfort to AT&T's @Home customers who have been switched and subsequently frustrated by Ma Cable's inadequate customer support and technical assistance.

And as for Microsoft, it shares Armstrong's bizarre vision of shifting the locus of the Internet from the computer to the more comforting television, and has now got a giant provider with which it can do business. This too is unlikely to become a better mousetrap -- especially when consumers noodle out (or discover the hard way) what the near-future of digital rights management really means to their entertainment budgets -- but Hell, ya gotta dream. ®

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