On Internet Fight, Follow the Money to Keep the Scorecard

comcast-money-640x365Edinburgh     The problem of transactional versus transformational organizing is nowhere clearer than in the lines being drawn around the issues of net neutrality and the internet as a public utility between old line civil rights groups and reformers. Some are trying to make much of seeing groups like the NAACP, LULAC, PUSH, and old lions like Rev. Jesse Jackson trek into the offices of the FCC and its chair, Tom Wheeler, to ask the commission to let the companies do whatever they can to whomever they can to make their money.

It’s a sad and embarrassing commentary on the state of the institutional apparatus of reform. It is also a display of the real grease that smooths the engines of our movement rather than the direction we all know we need to travel on the highway.

Comcast, AT&T, Times-Warner and others have paid the pipers. For years they have underwritten conventions, conferences, partnerships, projects, ad books, awards, and scholarships for the old-line outfits. The big companies maintain relationship specialists with various names whose job description is in fact managing these relationships, providing the grease, pressing the flesh, solving little problems, and showing up at big events. This is soft power that tries to avoid the direct expression that a quid pro quo is involved; even when everyone involved realizes that there will come a time when the chits are called in. Most smoothly expressed, these big companies, and most others like banks for example, would maintain that at the most they are getting access and have the right rolodex to be able to present their best cases to the decision makers in these organizations.

I’m not saying that the organizations shouldn’t take the money. Times are hard for organizations. At the same time they have to be able to walk away and maintain their credibility or it’s all over. Look at the tragic farce that has become Andrew Young’s legacy from civil rights to politics and diplomacy, and now as corporate shill from Walmart to whoever makes the next contribution and pays the next plane fare. These are cautionary case studies. We saw this over and over when ACORN was in fights with the banks and other lenders for example. I’ve often told the story of the settlement with HSBC, where we insisted ACORN’s share for remediation had to be double the annual level of what they had paid an old line, Beltway civil rights organization to saddle up to defend them. In fact we saw it with Comcast when they refused to listen to our demands for outreach to our communities on internet access, and instead wanted to accuse us of a shakedown. They thought, and still think, it’s all transactional. In the arrogance of corporate power, many of these big whoops start to believe that everyone can be bought, even when they must know only some are really for sale.

There’s a reason that politicians and others are left scratching in the face of modern protests and turmoil around police brutality and racial discrimination. They don’t have anyone to call on their speed dials that has credibility on the streets and in communities. They are calling the old lions, but they are a long way from the action because in fact they are in the lobby waiting to come up the elevator for a chat now.

Reportedly Rev. Jackson argued to the FCC’s Wheeler that he needed to protect the big company’s monopolies so that they would make investments in minority communities. Given the tragedy of sorry access and utilization in our communities from these companies as well as the exorbitant pricing which creates the divide and maintains their millions, it is just a matter of time before everyone asks Rev. Jackson and others, “What investment?” And, that is a question to be feared, if the answer is only an investment in some this and that with these organizations, rather than in the communities that are so desperately demanding change.

Transactions are invariably temporary. Transformation is always permanent. When change is coming, and it is coming, it’s best to be on the right side of the line.

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Comcast Monopoly Strategy: Be the Biggest Bully on the Block

Comcast_Public_Knowledge_Anti_TWC_Deal_WideNew Orleans         Sometimes you just have to scratch your head and admit that you are out of your pay grade. That’s where I’m heading in trying to figure out why the giant Comcast believes its best political and commercial strategy for achieving monopoly concentration in the cable and internet world is to be the biggest bully on the block. Yet, darned if that’s not the way David Cohen, Comcast’s executive vice-president, is calling the plays.

Not that I’m surprised, since that’s the way Cohen and Comcast chose to deal, or I guess I should more accurately say, not deal, with Local 100 United Labor Unions, Action United, and ACORN International in our demands and entreaties that they actually make their public relations internet program, Internet Essentials, really work. Shame on us for believing that because the $10 per month program was a requirement in the FCC order approving their last big merger with Universal that they would actually do something real to bridge the internet divide for lower income families rather than have their government relations people just wine and dine local politicians in their cities.

In the most recent bully boy schoolyard play, Cohen and Comcast dropped a 1000 pages on the FCC mainly whining that some of their business buddies and potential, oh my god can it be true, competitors, have opposed their monopoly play to acquire Times-Warner for selfish reasons about protecting their own businesses. I guess Comcast believes that they have some kind of monopoly on self-interest as well, or maybe it’s just the modern hubris of “what’s good for GM is good for the country” and their arrogance that they believe what is good for Comcast is therefore good for the American people.

Comcast’s main claim is that its buddies were involved in extortion. I do have to take this seriously, since Comcast has certainly proven that it probably knows more about everyday extortion than virtually any company working on the planet now. Netflix’s spokesperson replied tit for tat to that claim though by saying, “It is not extortion to demand that Comcast provide its own customers the broadband speeds they’ve paid for so that they can enjoy Netflix. It is extortion when Comcast fails to provide its own customers the broadband speed they’ve paid for unless Netflix also pays a ransom.” Boom! Now we’re talking trash that’s music to our ears!

So I have to wonder, will trying to bully the FCC and point fingers at everyone else work, because if so, we need to modify our strategy in trying to push the FCC to do better in providing internet access for our people? One finger wagging reported in the New York Times, from a media analyst said, “Regulators are a sophisticated audience. They can assess the merits of the various arguments without having to be coached on what incentives might be behind why someone did or didn’t say what they did.”

Of course I’m not that sophisticated, but I do know some simple things. If Comcast can’t even pretend to play nice before they are allowed to become a monopoly, how can any of us or the FCC believe that letting them become an even bigger monopoly will be good for any of us? We all were schooled on the basics that in dealing with a bully, you need to slap them back hard. The Comcast purchase of Times-Warner must be stopped. It’s the only way to get a bully to listen.

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Internet Monopolies Walls are Going to Tumble

Telus better pack it up or get right!

Telus better pack it up or get right!

Dallas     At the ACORN Canada staff training and then the management meeting in Montreal, we spent a LOT of time assessing and strategizing about our next steps on our Digital Access to Opportunities campaign which, plainly stated, continues to be our effort to build bridges for lower income families across the digital divide.

In Canada the companies are even more closely held monopoly concerns with the big three Telus, Canada Bell, and Rogers than are found even in the United States, although Comcast with its proposed merger of Times-Warner clearly has its heart set on going the same way.  Despite some steps to accommodate us with a $10 per month plan in public housing in Tornoto, Rogers has not moved past that opening round and what they delivered has been less than promised.  Telus in a meeting in Vancouver had told us they were moving our way, but then have not gotten back to us, and Bell continues to be unabashedly arrogant and impervious to our concerns, having adopted what can only be seen as a Comcast head-in-the-stand, make-me-do-it, schoolyard bully approach to the problem, hoping it will disappear into the Ethernet or something.

Not clear what tea leaves their lobbyists are telling them to read, but they’ve got trouble on the horizon.  The regulators in Canada are preparing for a hearing this winter on declaring the internet a public utility, and the same thing has been promised in the US by the FCC.

ACORN is committed to participating in the Ottawa hearings, but we’re convinced the court of public opinion is where we will be able to be heard more clearly.   They may have invested in some infrastructure but surveys of our members and others reveal that people hate their cable and internet company the way they once hated the local tax man.  Furthermore their brands are ubiquitous and their tentacles stretch everywhere from their ownership to sports teams in Tornoto to the bicycle sharing program in Montreal.  That’s a big, wide butt ready for the kicking!  We’re convinced that to get them finally to take seriously the desperation of lower income families to have access to opportunities, we’re going to have to go big, go broad, and be as ubiquitous as they are.  Enough said for now.

Meanwhile the often clueless former industry lobbyist heading the FCC must have startled the big boys of the industry in the financial papers the other day by pretty graphically drawing a picture of all of the internet companies as being emperors with no clothes on.  He simply stated the obvious without stating the obvious.  He said there is little or no competition in most markets so that internet service costs too much and changing from one operator to another is prohibitively expensive.  All of which is another way of saying that the companies are anti-competitive and operating like Canadians, or what we used to call monopolies.  Chairmen Wheeler claimed 80% of Americans have access to high speed internet at 25 megbits per second, though he didn’t say at what price, but if he’s going to acknowledge as his statement indicated that the “F.C.C. planned to promote more choices and protect competition, because a lack of adequate consumer choice inhibits innovation, investment and economic benefits,” it’s hard to believe that they can’t get the message.  For a change it was even an indirect shot across Comcast’s bow, since their claim that they are not a monopoly through their purchase of Times-Warner is that they don’t often compete in the same markets.  Someone seems to have given Wheeler the memo that they are in different markets, because they don’t compete, and you can’t claim you are regulating them to assure competition when they are silently colluding to kept customers captive and control separate geographies.

Ok, yeah, maybe I’m dreaming about the FCC being something other than chattel for the companies, but maybe when they see what we have in store for the companies in Canada some of the chill will blow down from the north to cool some of the imperial monopoly dreams that are widening the digital divide.  Here’s hoping!

 

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Opposition Building to FCC on Net Neutrality and Comcast Monopoly

12217_large_neutral-bitsNew Orleans    Finally, the 1% of 1% out in Silicon Valley is coming out of its stupor and scarey-cat stance in dealing with the Federal Communications Commission to stand with the rest of us in the 99% to oppose former industry lobbyist and new chair Tom Wheeler’s efforts to gut net neutrality on the internet and maybe even stand up to Comcast monopoly proposals.  Amazon, Facebook, Google, Twitter, Yahoo, and a mess of other high-techers came together in a coalition to write the chairman stating in no uncertain terms that the proposals he is advancing will end net neutrality no matter how smoothly he spins it.

According to New York Times media columnist, David Carr,

The signatories did not mince words, calling the proposal “a grave threat to the Internet.”  The letter goes on: “The commission’s longstanding commitment and actions undertaken to protect the open Internet are a central reason why the Internet remains an engine of entrepreneurship and economic growth,” it reads, continuing, “This commission should take the necessary steps to ensure that the Internet remains an open platform for speech and commerce so that America continues to lead the world in technology markets.”  Translation: You are about to break the Internet and you will be deeply sorry if you do.

Reportedly the chairmen is hurriedly trying to make some amendments and include some assurances that the FCC will look at each and every one of these deals to separate the internet into a high road and low road, a fast and slow lane, but given the continued cozy industry club, toothless way the FCC has regulated, no one buys this for a either a New York minute or a South Dakota stroll.   Netflix has already cut deals with both Comcast and AT&T to make sure its streaming gets priority on the “last mile” even while voicing skepticism.  A drumbeat of opposition from Silicon Valley matched with other almost universal calls to delay issuing these new rules and step back and do better may be enough for the tone deaf FCC to actually get the message.

In other reports with $150 billion of cash reserves in the bank Apple has more cash on hand than Britain and Israel combined.  Adobe, Intel, and Google have another $80 billion in reserves as well.  Needless to say those kinds of bank balances get a lot of attention in the no-campaign contribution limits Washington, DC, so when any of them even sniffle everyone from the White House on down says, “God Bless You!”  Makes me wonder why there are reports that all of them are privately saying they also oppose the Comcast monopoly merger acquisition of Times-Warner cable, and only Netflix is willing to come out in public and oppose the merger so far.

Net neutrality could finally be the muscle flex from the Valley that we need to elbow Comcast back, rather than foolishly believing them and their faux regulator, the FCC, that their monopoly will work out OK for America.  Even Tom Wheeler seems to be getting the message.  In the wake of the building firestorm on his gutting net neutrality, he is offering to hold hearings on facing reality and finally making the internet a public utility, which most of America already believes it is and should be.

People get ready!

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Is Comcast’s “Internet Essentials” Failure Finally Going to be Exposed?

qs2_bor_rou_shaNew Orleans    For several years, we have bombarded the FCC with complaints from our members in Little Rock, Houston, Shreveport and elsewhere about the travesty of Comcast’s so-called “internet essentials” program.  Some will remember that a condition of the toothless FCC’s approval of Comcast’s giant acquisition of NBC/Universal was Comcast’s creation of a $10 internet access program for lower income customers along with inexpensive access to low cost, refurbished computers largely provided by Dell.  The program in reality has largely been about public relations and political influence, and certainly not real work delivering the program to lower income families.  We were able to provide enough evidence of its failed promises that the FCC fined Comcast for its failure and extended the program.  In additional PR moves, the company claims it voluntarily is extending the program in its monopolistic efforts to now buy Times-Warner cable and dominate the cable and broadband internet services in the United States.  Likely, this extension was gratuitous since they were also likely to be headed for an additional fine and mandatory extension if the FCC was anything other than a tool of the company.

            Perhaps there is still truth to the saying that “you can run, but you can’t hide,” because now as its monopoly is being questioned by some politicians and is pending before the FCC, others besides ourselves are finally clearing the air around the company’s smokescreen obscuring the terrible performance of Internet Essentials.  A Washington Post article  pointedly zeroed in on the program appropriately as the Achilles heel in the company’s baloney about its greed.  Predictably VP David Cohen, who has been the front man for both of these efforts, responded not with a thoughtful acceptance and commitment to finally make the program work, but a whine about the poor, little company, essentially just trying to do good for the sake of doing good, which has to classify as the biggest pile of bull I’ve heard in years.  Or, as he says precisely, “…every once in a while, even a big company does a good thing for the right reasons.”  We can only all reply that, yes, that does happen every once in a while, but that is definitely not the case here with Comcast.

            The Post scores the company for computers that don’t work, families that aren’t still on the internet, poor participation, and slow speeds, and believe me if they had talked to our members in Texas, Louisiana, and Arkansas or our partners in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia they would have found that they are only glancing at the surface.  For Comcast, this is a hand wave at the problem of the digital divide and, read the FCC orders, less than that in terms of real compliance with the conditions of their purchase of NBC/Universal.  This was NOT a voluntary feel-good effort.  The “good thing” would have been delivering for low income families.  The “right reason” was not corporate benevolence but the clear language of an FCC order that the FCC has already had to enforce with discipline, even though it was more like a hand slap.

            If this is the way Comcast spins reality into its dream machine, can you imagine what they might say a year or two down the road to explain their role in building a monopoly and restricting progress guaranteed by universal access to the internet when they are so cavalier, inept, and frankly duplicitous about their failures with Internet Essentials?

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FCC Caving in on Net Neutrality – What Next?

net-neutrality-graphicsbank-FCCNew Orleans  OK, let’s get this straight.  Compared to other developed countries around the world in the United States we already have slower and more expensive internet, and few workable programs to assure equality of access.  Under a Democratic President though we should be able to expect some progress in this area though, right?  Instead we wake up to find that we have a Federal Communications Commission, that is now going to embark on a massive cave-in to corporate media concerns and move to allow the evisceration of “net neutrality,” despite the many FCC pledges to protect the internet and keep it free and open to all.  Pinch me now, this must be a nightmare.  This can’t be happening!

            But, it is. 

            This must be what happens when the President appoints a corporate communications lobbyist as the FCC chair?

            Just as a reminder of what we are on the verge of losing, if the FCC successfully eliminates net neutrality that means that the big cable and internet access companies, like the monopolists at Comcast, can create toll roads requiring companies like Amazon, Netflix, Google or others to pay them for faster access for their products than “regular” internet, and of course in jacking the costs to them, the costs to us will also rise dramatically, pushing monetizing universal access even farther away from equity and more towards income.   Google is trying to lay its own high speed optical networks to hedge against the Comcasts and their rising rates, but such networks will be built in certain cities, not everywhere of course.  Past the issues for consumers, the end of net neutrality means new, upstart tech startups won’t be able to afford the access that allows them to compete against the new, wannabe legacy companies like Facebook, Google, and the like.  Does any of this sound like a win for any of us

            Given this horror, is there any way that the FCC or the Justice Department could ever allow Comcast to consolidate control of cable access through its merger monopoly purchase of Times-Warner cable?  Rationally, we should think not, but it’s scary.  It looks like the fix is in, and when the fix it is in, it’s always about protecting the insiders and penalizing the outsiders, which means the rest of us.

            With all of the big internet moguls visiting the White House recently and repeatedly to complain to the President about the NSA, their lost business, and their weird views of the world and how it suits them, it’s impossible for me to believe the subject of a profound policy pivot on “net neutrality” or the Comcast merger, never made it to the agenda list.  I have a bad feeling that the Silicon billionaires may be talking out of both sides of their mouth and saying to their public that they want “net neutrality,” while signaling to the government that they are OK with it going its own way, as long as their companies are protected and the door is slammed behind them.

            This all just smells bad to me, and worse may be coming if we all become “Comcast country” as well.

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