New 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.