Time to Stop Comcast Monopoly is Now!

5170558150_19c732636f_zNew Orleans       After almost a year and a half of trying to pull the wool over federal regulators and the consumer public, the effort by Comcast to create a predatory monopoly over broadband internet and cable with its proposed merger with Times-Warner seems to finally be coming to a head.   Reportedly, the FCC is now entertaining both parties for the first time in fourteen months on whether it will schedule a public hearing on the merger.  Experts talking to the Wall Street Journal say that if Comcast is not able to stop a hearing, the FCC only schedules one as the kiss of death, which gives us all something to hope for now.

There is encouraging news.  The feds seem to have seen through the Comcast flimflam argument that, “hey, fellas, this is just a simple cable deal,” realizing that the real issue is not cable, which all us techno-peasants know could be an outdated technology on its way to the dustbins of history like home telephones and desktop radio sets.  The FCC realized that the merger would give the monopoly almost 60% of the market for broadband internet.  Furthermore, there is nothing in Comcast’s history or recent record that indicates that they would play nice with a monopoly.   No way, no how.

More good news has emerged from the Justice Department indicating they may be coming late to the game, but finally seem to be looking at the antitrust ramifications of this proposed merger.   In recent weeks, reports have emerged that indicate that there is no determination, but the folks at Justice are not liking what they are seeing so far.

Reading the tea leaves, I would say that they are floating trial balloons to help stiffen the back of the FCC, just as the President had to do on the net neutrality issue.  The FCC is charged with determining whether a merger like this is in the public interest, while Justice looks at antitrust.  Sending a message through the newspapers across the wide Washington, DC boulevards that Justice is skeptical on the merger might be the last push towards the right decision by the FCC.

Supposedly, the FCC is also looking at whether or not the Comcast record on their merger with NBC/Universal indicates they can be trusted on this deal.  The Journal says a deal with Hulu is an issue.  I don’t know Hulu from Hawaii, but I do know their commitment to the FCC order about delivering low cost, accessible service to lower income families with children has been a travesty dressed in hypocrisy.   We have already forced the company to pay fines and extend the years required to deliver on their commitment, and they are nowhere close to doing right.  Giving an outfit like this majority control of broadband internet would guarantee that the digital divide for lower income families would be permanent and unbridgeable.  Too much of the future is tied into the internet to allow a company like Comcast to made inequity a permanent condition dividing everyone forever.

If you haven’t already let the FCC know that this Comcast monopoly has to be stopped, then now is the time to do so.

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Phil Ochs Power and the glory

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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 Gives Comcast a Slap for Reneging on Agreements for Broadband Access

New Orleans    No sooner are we dissecting Comcast and VP David Cohen’s remarks about metering broadband access than later in the day Gerry Smith, the Huffington Post tech writer, breaks the story of the FCC’s announcement of a settlement with the company over their foot dragging on their agreement to market a fixed rate broadband plan for 3 years as another condition of their $13+billion acquisition of NBC/Universal.  The set of circumstances is frighteningly similar to the identical follow through failure of Comcast on its promises to provide a low-cost package to low income families to lower the digital divide.

According to the FCC as reported by Smith:

To win FCC approval for the $13.8 billion deal last January, Comcast pledged to “visibly offer and actively market” a standalone broadband service to customers for $50 a month for three years.

The FCC imposed the condition to ensure the merged company did not force customers to buy bundled services such as cable television when they only wanted high-speed Internet.

But the FCC said a year-long investigation found that Comcast failed to mention the standalone broadband service, known as “Performance Starter,” in mailings to many customers, did not make the service easy to find on its website, and did not offer the service at its retail locations.

“The bureau investigated and found that while Comcast had made some efforts to comply, it had failed to fully implement the condition,” FCC spokesman Neil Grace said.

Sound familiar?  Indeed!  This is precisely what our coalition has been saying to Comcast and its representatives from Cohen on down for months now about the so-called “Internet Essentials” program.  Yes, they have “made some efforts to comply” with the order to offer access to the poor, but they have absolutely “failed to fully implement the condition.”   And, in an identical bait-and-switch move, Comcast seems to have run the same scams on Performance Starter that we have found on Internet Essentials:  not telling people, making it virtually impossible to access on website and phones, since these are folks without internet, and refusing to offer at accessible retail locations (only 1 location in all of Harris County where they have a dozen outlets!).  Remember in the greater Houston area they have only allowed about 2000 to survive the maze to get the service and in Philly, I’ll be kind, and say less than 500 lower income families have been able to gain access.  Sign our Petition here!

Cohen has conceded to us directly in a recent meeting in Philadelphia that, yes, if a lower income family calls the regular Comcast number rather than making it through their maze to the special Internet Essentials number that Comcast will up-sell poor families to their higher end access offerings and not the lower access program they promised via Internet Essentials and the FCC order.  Smith mentions our protests and efforts obliquely in the story and acknowledges that the Internet Essentials program has been much more “controversial.”  The reports Comcast shared with us indicated hardly 40,000 had been enrolled in the program nationally, though Smith and the Huffington Post somehow are reporting a figure more than four times that of 160,000, which seems very suspicious and unlikely.  Comcast would have had to pull a rabbit out of a hat to achieve that in the short time since our meetings with them about these figures several months ago.  Their spokesperson was quoted in another dissembling remark as saying they will have a report soon.  Sounds a little bit like a report of election results in Iran, where they are manufacturing the numbers before the vote count.

I would like to believe that this announcement is a sign that the FCC is finally standing up to Comcast.  They claim this is the result of a year-long investigation.  The fine was less than a million, so the FCC may have spent more shuffling papers on this for a year than Comcast is actually paying in a fine.  There was no mention that the FCC is looking into the Internet Essentials failure which would have seemed to have been something they could have done at the same time.

The only real hope in all of this besides the fact that Comcast has had to admit that they were caught red handed is that Senator Al Franken and his committee seems to be following this closely.  Perhaps now we can move his attention to the shame and scandal of digital access to the poor!

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