Comcast Tactics Increasingly Transparent

comcast_logo_detailNew Orleans    We’ve said it before, and we’ll keep saying it again, but Comcast’s strategy to win approval of its monopoly in cable with a merger with Times-Warner has become increasingly obvious as one that builds support almost strictly on a “pay to play” basis under its architect, chief lobbyist and bullyboy, David Cohen. Tactically, it has muscled up support for its merger through its donations program almost exclusively. Even the New York Times has finally followed the crumbs back to the source.

Cohen of course denies everything as always.

None of us will forget just a couple of years ago that when our partner, Action United in Pennsylvania carried all of our grievances in Pennsylvania, Texas, Louisiana, and Arkansas with their fake, public relations $9.99 internet access program, despite the FCC requirement that they do the work to justify the merger with Universal the kind of performance Cohen put on. The suggestion that their outreach program, which consisted solely of leaning on schools to pass out brochures and their lobbyists wining and dining local politicians about their generosity, was woefully inadequate and they needed actual help in hitting the doors and doing real outreach, was greeted rudely by Cohen accusing us of asking for a bribe or something. Whoa there, cowboy! The FCC of course agreed with us and forced the company to pay a $750,000 fine, which Cohen probably also thought was a bribe as well, just of them rather than us, and continue their program for additional years. One of the gratuitous offers Comcast and Cohen have made to create the monopoly with Times-Warner is to continue the same program though of course still without making meaningful changes that would actually lead to any bridging of the digital divide to lower income families.

Nonprofits who are involved in partnerships with big corporations and their corporate contribution programs know the score. You take the money from their open hands for this or that, unless it’s part of a court settlement or an aggressive campaign, and the day will come when your liaison calls and carefully couches his request in the most positive light as not having been a quid pro quo but they need help before this hearing or that district or whatever and would it be possible for you to issue a statement, write a letter, testify or whatever to the work we have done together. Certainly ACORN and our banking partners on our housing program often got these calls, and we would push back or modify them to an agreeable proposition, but it was all part of the game, and chits were shelved for the future, just as antes had been placed on the past.

With a crew of reportedly 140 federally registered lobbyists and god knows how many working state by state, region by region, market by market, Cohen is no slouch, and they would know how to put a quota on their governmental relations crew to produce the number of statements they wanted to the FCC from groups that they had given money to for this or that in order to deposit money in the “future” bank for just this kind of FCC play.

Luckily, despite all of Comcast’s and Cohen’s denials, this is not the FCC’s first time at the rodeo either. It’s a shame to see so many nonprofits snared in this mess, but times are tough and rationalizations are pennies on the dollar as well in the pay-to-play political game.

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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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