Comcast’s Internet Essentials and Lousy Customer Service Brought Them Down, Too

comcast-sucks-2Austin       The failure of Comcast’s monopoly-merger mania would almost be Biblical in the “pride cometh before a fall” sense if it were not so predictable, and if, we, and thankfully a whole lot of other people in a whole lot of other places, had not repeatedly tried to tell them so and warn them repeatedly.  But, it’s really not Biblical, it’s more a P.T. Barnum problem of their thinking that because they could fool the people once, they could fool them all the time.

And, speaking of pride, I swelled up a bit reading the lead paragraphs in the New York Times analyzing their mega-fail and starting with the fake digital divide effort Comcast pretended to make on their so-called “internet essentials” program where the FCC had ordered that they provide a low-cost access to lower income families in order to gobble up NBC/Universal, and as we have frequently outlined they spend more on wining and dining local politicians and making so-called contributions to groups they wanted to have stand up for them before the FCC than they ever spent on actually doing the outreach or following through on the program.  Though they claim that only paid a fine on one condition of the order, they gloss over the fact that they had to pay $750,000 and add a year for their huge failure and fake effort on helping to bridge the digital divide.

This Comcast scam is too egregious and finally its comeuppance is too delicious not to quote in full:

“Critics, however, call Internet Essentials, a public relations stunt that failed to deliver on its promise, with restrictive qualifications, limited reach and poor service.  Comcast committed to making the program available to 2.5 million low-income households.  The company announced in March that the program had connected 450,000 families – or about 17 percent of eligible households….’Regulators were sold a bill of goods,’ said John Bergmayer…at Public Knowledge, a consumer advocacy group that has criticized the effectiveness of Internet Essentials…’I’d be curious whether they spent more time marketing in D.C. to policy makers than to people who qualify for the program.’”

That’s not a curiosity, that’s a statement of fact, and not just in DC but in any city hall and governmental jurisdiction where they operated.

In the same piece the report says, “Comcast officials say that the population is difficult to reach and that getting people to sign up for the service has been harder than they thought.”  Balderdash!  We told David Cohen, the chief flak, repeatedly and to his face that handing out leaflets to beleaguered school teachers was NOT an outreach program.  WE told him to his face, in writing, and repeatedly up and down the Comcast chain in Congressmen’s offices and with his governmental relations folks that the program was too complex, there was no follow through, you couldn’t sign up, they tried to upsell people, the computers didn’t work, etc, etc, and they accused us of “shaking them down.”  Look who is busted now.

Turns out now that the deal has collapse, that they also couldn’t get over the fact as well that their customers, many of whom are also voters, don’t like high priced, crummy cable and internet coupled with rude and non-existent customer service.  Really?  Is that a surprise to anyone but Comcast?  And, did Brian Roberts, the Comcast chief, really think promising the FCC’s Tom Wheeler that they would deliver “first in class service” had any credibility whatsoever.  Justice was sure there were antitrust problems and the FCC was sure not only that the deal was not in the public interest, but also that there was no way that they could hold Comcast accountable.  Comcast proved that to them on NBC Universal.

It’s not over.

They may call Philadelphia their corporate headquarters and they may be waving around the fact they are building a second high rise, but they are now facing a franchise renewal hearing.  What goes around, comes around and our campaign partner, Action United in Pennsylvania will undoubtedly be at the hearing to remind Comcast how lame their internet essentials program has been, how terrible their service is, and what they demand Comcast is going to have to do to get right with the people in the City of Brotherly Love, as opposed to Wall Street and Washington.

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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.

***
Phil Ochs Power and the glory

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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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Comcast Concedes Up Selling, Cox & Times-Warner Continue Silence, and FCC Snoozes

New Orleans  The cynicism that surrounds the claims of cable companies and the FCC around lowering the “digital divide” continues to move from cloudy skies to deepest fog with absolutely no action from the FCC to solve the problem, enforce its own order, or prevent embarrassment from its own prior, public announcements.   The FCC has ceased to be an effective corporate regulator, and moved to a position akin to a hand puppet.

In a top level meeting in recent weeks between the directors of our coalition ally, ACTION United, in Philadelphia with Comcast officials that direct the Internet access program, the company frankly and flatly conceded that “yes” they were up selling to poor people who were unable to navigate access to the company for their low-cost Internet access system.  ACTION United, Local 100 United Labor Unions, ACORN International and other organizations had sent one complaint after another to the FCC about exactly this practice and in tests with our members have duplicated it time after time as a continuing and ongoing policy of Comcast.  All of this directly contradicts the FCC order in Comcast’s acquisition of NBC/Universal that they provide such access to lower income families.  Despite the company’s concession, the Comcast executives gave no assurances that the policy would change.

The FCC has failed now to respond to any complaints filed from Houston, Little Rock, Shreveport, or Philadelphia.  In Philadelphia there is some indication that the FCC simply turned the formally filed complaints over to the company for action (inaction?!?), which indicates how captive the agency is to the companies it regulates.

Despite huge publicity and announcements in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal by the head of the FCC that there was a “voluntary” agreement by Cox and Time-Warner to provide similar service in the spring, there has been no announcement whatsoever that such a program has been prepared or exists.  Correspondence to Cox and Times-Warner in Louisiana and Texas from Local 100 United Labor Unions interested in enrolling our members and the Head Start families that we represent has not been answered.   The companies are hoping that poor and working families have as little knowledge of their promises as they have of the Internet, and probably aided and abetted by the FCC, felt confident that they didn’t really need to do anything anyway.

What an interesting set of government policies and corporate implementations this is.  There is no need to do little more than pretend, since performance means nothing and only marketing has meaning.  Meanwhile the divide gets wider and wider between the top and the bottom.

Thanks for nothing, FCC!

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Liberia, Fusion, Comcast, Cox, and Times-Warner

George Kieh, spearheading ACORN International's Liberia project, holding a copy of Global grassroots, and Wade

Philadelphia   The uncharacteristic Spring heat wave was broken by some rain making a predawn walk to Clark Park both invigorating and something of a relief.  After a couple of hours of conversation “catch-up” with Craig Robbins of ACTION United, we met with George Kieh to make plans to build an organization for Liberians in both Monrovia, Liberia, and in the concentrated communities in the United States.

ACORN International’s partnership with George is fascinating, because we are discussing a way that we could both build organization in New Jersey and Pennsylvania among Liberian expatriates which would provide representation, advocacy, and support services to them as well as create financial support for organizing in Liberia itself.  Simultaneously, we are creating the infrastructure and training program to begin building membership based community organization in Liberia itself that we can link in Africa to our organizing in Kenya.  The work follows the plan, and we id good work around Craig’s kitchen table outlining the setps we need to move forward.

On the way to a meeting with the ACTION United staff about our Comcast campaign I finally also understood better the Working Family Party strategy in Pennsylvania as well.  Fortunately they seem to be more aggressively committing to building an independent party and in Pennsylvania they have the added benefit of being able to use fusion in lower level contests like school board races and judicial contests, which could help crystallize support for the party efforts.

For the main event we spent a couple of valuable hours getting to do some face-to-face planning and brainstorming around our joint campaign alliance attacking the digital divide and trying to force the Philly-headquartered Comcast to finally comply with the FCC order in its acquisition of NBC/Universal and provide the $9.95/month plan and access to low cost computers.  We discussed a number of tactical options for wrenching up the pressure in coming weeks.  Not only are there various opportunities for actions, but the work being done by Local 100 with our Head Start employers who are joining our campaign in Houston, Shreveport, and Little Rock to obtain coverage for employees and clients of the program.  Recently these partnerships have brought Comcast back to the table for several meetings in coming weeks.  There was consensus that the campaign now has to also spread to Cox and Time-Warner to see if we can get them to deliver on their commitments and do a better job than the miserable performance Comcast has delivered thus far.  One of the organizers also noticed that Cox is now rolling out a national low-cost plan, which might also provide a partner for us to more effectively lower the digital divide.  Focus, focus, focus seems to be what we need to achieve now, since opportunities abound.

If I been in Philly more a full 24 hours, who knows what we might have been able to get done!

Wade and Craig Robbins, Director of ACTION United

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