A Test is Coming in Philly on Whether or Not Comcast Has Learned a Lesson

Screen Shot 2015-06-11 at 9.57.08 AMMontrea    Fortune, the business magazine, ran a prominent article in their June 1st edition on Comcast with the title, “How to Lose Friends and Influence,” essentially detailing how their bully-boy ways, indifference  to customers and community, and just plain arrogance had been key factors in subverting their monopoly efforts to merge with Times-Warner Cable.  Having railed and organized for years to get Comcast to put life, rather than a lie, into their so-called “internet essentials” program required by FCC order in their Universal merger, rather than pretty much a play-pretend public relations program claiming much and doing little, I lapped the piece up based not on a bias about the company, but hard rock experience from David Cohen, their executive vice-president on down to waste of time meetings we had with company reps in Houston, Shreveport, and Little Rock.

Turns out our misery has plenty of company.  Fortune interviewed dozens of “industry insiders” and read the regulatory filings, and found  that the “Philadelphia company, indeed, might offer a rare lesson in whether having a reputation for good corporate community-ship actually matters in today’s hypercompetitive world.”  Besides regularly flipping off all of its community, as we can attest, the evidence is amazing how much it holds its own, often captive, consumers in total disdain.  Comcast managed somehow to “win” the “Worst Company in America” dishonor in both 2010 and 2014 from a Consumer Reports blog.  Fortune also reported that the American Consumer Satisfaction Index ranked their Xfinity Internet service 234th of 236 companies.

Of course Comcast is now claiming that they are “moving on.”  They also claim they are training and hiring more customer service folks by the thousand.  We take little comfort in that since it was their training of their customer service folks to up-sell the supposed low income benefit “internet essentials” program that helped us win the FCC’s fine for their bad behavior.   Out of their billions in profit they are also reportedly allocating $300 million to improving customer service, but once again that seems to all be about how the techs and field service folks speed up and sweet up their jobs.  Given their history, I would worry that their culture has to change at the top, where the tone is set, not the bottom.  It’s not the tail wagging this dog.

There’s a test in Philadelphia right now during the hearings that the City of Philadelphia has set for Comcast’s franchise renewal.  The renewal is specifically about their access to the streets and cable, less than the internet, but it still goes right to Comcast’s “corporate community-ship,” as Fortune calls it.

A Philly-based coalition called mediamobilizing.org called them out early on this saying:

 

Amidst skyrocketing profits, Comcast fights Philadelphians’ basic needs– leading and paying the largest amount in lobbying costs to oppose a campaign to guarantee earned sick days for Philadelphians, and paying little in taxes to the city that gives it so much- a rate of 3.4%, when the average in Pennsylvania is 9.99%.

 

So, clearly Comcast is not going to be able to go through the public hearings deaf to the complaints and pretending it is all about streets and cable TV.  In fact,  there is a demand for Comcast to support public access television on cable and slide over 5% of their profits to the Philadelphia general fund.  I bet that gets their attention.  Some Philadelphians aren’t all that happy that Comcast isn’t paying its fair share now, but just got $43 million in local and state tax breaks to build a second skyscraper in Center City.  Not surprisingly people want there to be more access to the internet for all the people in Philly, no matter what the fine lines are about what the city can and cannot do in a franchise agreement.

Fortune ends their piece saying that the Harvard Business School will be using Comcast as a case study for years to come on their botched merger and what they learn from their mistakes.  We hope they hear people in Philly and around the country calling for less contempt, more access, and better cable and internet, because that would truly be worth the study.

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From our friends at Musicians United to Protect Bristol Bay:

Thunda N Shakin: Pebble Mine Song. Bristol Bay Alaska. Lopker song

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Comcast-Time Warner Merger Must be Stopped!

comcastNew Orleans   Comcast has announced a $45 billion and change merger to acquire Times Warner Cable in a ruthless effort to consolidate the cable industry.  They would put their leading 21.6 million customers with Times Warner’s 11.4 customers.  They claim this is not an anti-trust problem because they don’t overlap with Times Warner in any zipcode in the country.  They are also willing to shed 3 million customers to get down to only 30 million total to make someone happy, though I’m not sure who, since this is all total baloney anyway.

The head of Comcast says, hey, no problem, we’re still abiding by the requirements on the earlier mega-merger when it acquired NBC/Universal.  Then there is also plenty of fluff about how they need this merger in order to compete for better content for viewers and the speculation about how this might help consumers because it just might give Comcast a stronger hand in negotiating for program content.

Horsefeathers!  You don’t buy something for $45 billion and then lower prices for your cable users, which are already astronomically high, and with recent court rulings could go higher while creating two-tiered access to the internet anyway.  Let’s get this straight.  On main street USA, Comcast is not a content company, but a cable company delivering an often inaccessible television and internet signal at alarmingly low speeds for exorbitant prices.  Show me the Americans that love their cable company?

And, as for Comcast promises, forget about it.  I feel like a broken record, but it is impossible not to remind that the FCC ordered Comcast to lower the digital divide and create a program for lower income internet access.   This was a condition of the FCC’s approval of the NBC/Universal merger.  The company pulled together a sophisticated public relations and local lobbying campaign mainly about getting applause for themselves for the idea, rather than the implementation.  The $9.99 plan was narrowed to a 2 or 3 year package for free-and-reduced price lunch eligible families including a refurbished computer, but the outreach depended on getting the schools to sell their cable service and pass out their brochures.  Talk about a plan designed for failure, since being Comcast’s marketing arm is about the last thing that schools have any time to do.  We filed complaints in Little Rock, Shreveport, and Houston about the inaccessibility of the implementation, and despite all of Comcast’s self-congratulation, and Executive Vice-President David Cohen’s constantly delusional denials of the facts of their failure to achieve significant gains in lower income access, the FCC slapped a $750,000 fine on them and added another year to the requirement that they get this right.   It has been same song, different verse though, and we are awaiting action on the same complaints from the same people again.

This is a company that needs to be broken up, not allowed to realize its monopoly ambitions.  Internet and cable should be seen as necessary public utilities, not as the captive cash cows to finance Hollywood visions.  We need real regulation that guarantees access and higher speed, not more wheeler-dealer balderdash.  Treat the cable and internet business as a basic utility with a fair profit and let them play Hollywood East from Philadelphia.

I don’t care how close a friend the papers want to claim David Cohen is with President Obama, the President knows better on this one.  Let Eric Holder, the Attorney-General, let the anti-trust division of the Justice Department loose on this one and don’t make a deal until finally American consumers get a real break and we all get the access we need so that everybody has an opportunity to use the internet, rather than watch another crummy reality show, ball game, or soap opera.

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Little Hope for New NLRB Rules, SEIU Convention, & Canadian Initiatives

New Orleans  It is time to examine the results of all of the sound and fury of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) decisions that conservatives claimed would bring the end of world as they knew it.  The conclusion to date is that there is no change whatsoever!

Step back for a minute and remember that on the eve of Obama’s election many unions thought that changes in federal labor law were imminent.  Some pushed for this to be Job #1 for the new administration.  Obama, Biden, and others had committed to the passage of much needed amendments to the labor law.  Organizing unions like SEIU had task forces, staff assigned, and organizing plans developed.  Top staffers can remember the discussions with the White House chief of staff, Rahm Emmanuel finally signing off on the potential legislation.  Then there was the deluge with the 2010 midterm elections debacle and any remaining hope for legislative relief was long gone.

The strategy morphed into the distant second best of regulatory changes issued by the NLRB on rule making procedures.  The right demonized Craig Becker, a labor leaning board member with ties to SEIU and the AFL-CIO.  Out of these elephantine labors came two major initiatives the NLRB trumpeted.

The first, a much ballyhooed minor posting of workers’ rights that the NLRB had ordered to be posted on the bulletin boards of employers throughout the country has still not occurred and is lost in the courts.  The second, a much diluted but more rapid election schedule which largely benefited the more infrequently organized large bargaining units where hearing and unit appeals can postpone elections for years, is now also held up by court orders questioning the quorum and majority on the NLRB that made the final decisions.  Truthfully, business protests too much.  Neither of these changes were game changers, though they were nice enough and certainly better than nothing by many miles.

It is time for those of us in labor to come to some hard conclusions.  The rules are NOT likely to change.  The game has to change and by that I mean the fundamental labor organizing model, as I’ve argued frequently.

SEIU the premier organizing union of recent decades is now meeting in its quadrennial convention and for the first time in over 30 years they will be “celebrating” a declining membership.  This should never have happened!

Unions in Canada may be acting faster and smarter than their US counterparts and learning some lessons from the US experience that down south we are still trying to deny.  Interestingly in the merger discussions between the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) and the Communications, Energy, and Paperworkers (CEP) which would create a Canadian super-union,  the key incentive for the merger seems to be a recognition that the organizing model has to change.

Millions of Canadian workers, like part-time workers and contract workers, have no effective possibility of forming a traditional union,” said CAW economist Jim Stanford. “These unorganized workers should not be cannon fodder for unethical employers. We can find other ways for them to use the power of numbers.

They are still a good distance from figuring it out, but at least they are singing the right tune, while I can hear a funeral dirge in the background in union halls throughout America.

SEIU rally in LA

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