Comcast last night filed their reply comments to the FCC as the agency considers approving the company's $45 billion acquisition of Time Warner Cable. The filing is filled with the sort of arguments we've seen countless times already
over the past few months, including Comcast's repeated claim that they face so much competition on every front
there's simply no way they'd ever engage in anti-competitive behavior.
The company's 337 page filing
(pdf) references companies like Google Fiber, Hulu (which Comcast co-owns) and Netflix countless times in trying to make the point that consumers are just drowning in competition
Further, although Comcast and TWC do not compete with each other, they both face robust competition in their respective markets from DirecTV and Dish (the nation’s second and third largest MVPDs), telcos (e.g., AT&T, Verizon, CenturyLink), overbuilders (e.g., RCN, WOW!, and Google Fiber), and, increasingly, online video distributors (e.g., Netflix, Amazon). The video marketplace is thriving, and cable operators and other MVPDs face enormous pressure to offer reasonable prices and attractive programming, features, and options to consumers.
Which is why, of course, Comcast's customer service is among the worst in any industry, and the company has the luxury of raising prices several times per year (it helps your argument when you completely ignore your mono/duopoly over the last mile). In a blog post, Comcast top lobbyist David Cohen is also quick to insist the company has oodles of support for the deal, despite the fact that Comcast has spent the last six months being historically criticized on nearly every front, from a laundry list of groups, individuals and companies. Says Cohen:
The record includes an outpouring of more than 500 thoughtful and positive comments from a wide range of supporters, including more than 100 Chambers of Commerce and business organizations, a substantial and diverse group of businesses ranging from start-ups to national technology equipment makers, over 20 programmers, nearly 200 diversity groups and community partners, academics and public policy leaders, and over 150 state and local leaders.
Omitted of course is the fact that the majority of that support for Comcast's deal comes simply because those lawmakers and organizations receive money from Comcast
. As for those against the merger, Cohen (who calls himself the company's "Chief Diversity Officer" as part of a larger attempt to skirt lobbying rules
) insists that opponents of the deal are either making things up, or are simply looking to "extort" Comcast:
The significance of this extortion lies in not just the sheer audacity of some of the demands, but also the fact that each of the entities making the “ask” has all but conceded that if its individual business interests are met, then it has no concern whatsoever about the state of the industry, supposed market power going forward, or harm to consumers, competitors, or new entrants. The Commission should take heed of this, because, while the Transaction is perceived as an opportunity for so many to leverage their individual interests, none has been able to make a fact-based, compelling argument that the Transaction would actually harm the public interest.
Except numerous consumer groups, on numerous fronts, many with no interest in the merger outside of consumer welfare -- have illustrated repeatedly how a larger Comcast can use greater leverage to harm choice, competition and consumer pricing. Also repeatedly illustrated is that a larger Comcast likely will result in even worse customer support than ever before. Comcast also omits that historically (as we saw with NBC), it's Comcast themselves that gets to come up with merger conditions
yet still often has trouble adhering to them
Most FCC bosses (from both parties) have paid a lot
of lip service to broadband competition over the years, but usually lack the conviction to upset major campaign donors and embrace the kind of policies that could really fix things. Our national broadband plan, for example
, is criticized as being a convoluted pile of politically-safe half-measures, failing to address duopoly issues.
Comcast's historically abysmal customer customer service has many causes, not least of which is the company's fairly obvious lax standards when it comes to subcontractors, which over the years has resulted in installers falling asleep
, murdering people
, digging in the wrong yard
, blowing up laptops
or even animal cruelty
. But to hear many Comcast insiders tell it, another major reason for Comcast's problems is the fact that the company has spent much of its existence growing for the sake of growing.
The US broadband industry has spent years now trying to argue the United States broadband market is secretly flawless, awesome and highly competitive, despite the fact that absolutely every independent source of broadband data (from Akamai
and the FCC
to the OECD
and OOkla's Net Index
) suggests we're absolutely and utterly mediocre at every metric that counts.
Thanks to napping regulators, apathy, and a poorly-informed public, the lack of competition continues to be the primary reason for our mediocrity.
New FCC boss Tom Wheeler has now stated several times
he's going to take aim at incumbent-ISP state laws that ban or prohibit towns and cities from deploying their own broadband -- even in cases where nobody else will. Chattanooga utility EPB broadband
is ready for Wheeler to actually start following through with this promise any day now, and is giving the FCC boss the opportunity to show his rhetoric on the subject isn't empty.
While Verizon's legal victory over the FCC did gut the agency's net neutrality rules, it kept some of the FCC's authority over ISPs intact -- specifically the agency's transparency rules
-- which require that ISPs be straightforward about the "network management practices, performance, and commercial terms" of their broadband services.
In a statement issued today
, the FCC "reminded" wireline and wireless ISPs alike that those rules are still intact and need to be adhered to, lest the agency lightly slap a wrist or two -- maybe.
A fresh Wall Street Journal editorial
criticizes community broadband, and frets over the news that FCC Boss Tom Wheeler has indicated he'd like to do something about ISP-written state laws
that ban towns and cities from building their own broadband -- even in cases where nobody else will.
Thomas Schatz of Citizens Against Government Waste and Royce Van Tassell of the Utah Taxpayers Association first take aim against Utah's UTOPIA, correctly pointing out that the network has struggled in the past and now waits for funding from an Australian private investment firm.
One of the most common myths in the broadband industry (well, many industries) is that if you just stop regulating providers and let them do whatever they'd like, network investment will explode and we'll all be living in a Utopia of ultra-fast, inexpensive connections in no time. Of course time after time after time we're shown this isn't true, as shortly after deregulating a company like AT&T users wind up getting socked with higher rates and worse service than ever
In the wake of the government's latest cash-drunk stumbleabout on net neutrality
, most consumer advocates are urging the government to solidify FCC authority over broadband by regulating ISPs as common carriers (essentially utilities). Former FCC boss Michael Powell, now the cable industry's top lobbyist at the NCTA, this week fought back against such ideas while patting himself on the back for his deregulatory policies -- policies that put consumer interests and the FCC in the precarious position they are in today.
For years many people have noted that net neutrality violations are really just anti-competitive behavior under another, increasingly politically-polarizing name. More than that they're just a symptom of a much larger disease: a lack of broadband competition. story continues..
OP/ED: The FCC spent most of today engaged in damage control over the news that the agency's new net neutrality rules will vacillate somewhere between useless and incredibly harmful
, in that they may actually codify and protect anti-competitive behavior for major ISPs. A Blog post
by FCC boss Tom Wheeler lamenting "misinformation" and a morning conference call with reporters did nothing to quell public and media annoyance
that once again -- an agency tasked with protecting consumers appears to be entirely spineless.
AT&T today announced that the company is "eyeing" 100 potential target cities as locations they may
deploy faster 1 Gbps "Gigapower" service. According to the company's press release
, this "major initiative" will target 100 "candidate cities and municipalities" across 21 metropolitan areas nationwide.
Comcast's top lobbyist David Cohen (who skirts lobbying disclosure rules by simply pretending he's not a lobbyist
) says he's yet to hear any "rational, knowledgeable voices" objecting to his company's planned $45 billion acquisition of Time Warner Cable. In an interview
with CSPAN (see this companion Time article
), Cohen again reiterated that the deal would be great for consumers and great for America, as if a man paid to lobby for Comcast would voice any other opinion.
The other day AT&T's top policy man Jim Cicconi called Netflix "arrogant"
and a freeloader, simply for expressing concern that large last-mile ISPs were looking to abuse peering relationships for profit and power. AT&T's comments weren't entirely unlike comments made by the company back in 2005, when then CEO Ed Whitacre poured gasoline on the network neutrality fight by insisting companies like Google wouldn't be able to "ride our pipes for free."
They don't, never have, and never will.
The FCC today voted unanimously to begin conducting voluntary trials to ensure a relatively smooth and reasonable transition away from the PSTN and copper networks. The push for such trials began in earnest after Verizon refused to repair the DSL and copper POTS lines of hurricane Sandy victims, instead forcing them to instead use an inferior wireless-based product
known as VoiceLink, which doesn't work with alarm systems, has numerous glitches, and doesn't provide data connectivity.
Broadband has always been a lip service favorite among politicians, rhetoric about "innovation" and a "connected tomorrow" distracting us eternally from the country's high prices, lack of competition and total government apathy to both. Last night's State of the Union
was no exception, President Obama re-iterating a rather vague promise made last June
that the FCC would help bring 100 Mbps broadband to 99% of schools in the next four years.
As a sort of counter-point to former FCC Commissioner Michael Copps' claim that we should classify ISPs as common carriers to preserve net neutrality
, the EFF has penned a blog post
effectively arguing that the FCC really isn't going to save us from network neutrality violations because they're a broken agency in the pockets of industry. Unlock Copps, the EFF fears that giving the FCC any additional authority opens the door toward even worse rules and regulations:
In light of these threats it is tempting to reach for easy solutions.
As we've been discussing
, if ISPs are going to violate network neutrality now that we have no protection rules, it won't be by the outright blocking of content or services, given that would bring down the hammer of government intervention. Instead, more subtle ways of being anti-competitive are going to be the norm; anti-competitive behavior will be buried under faux-technical necessity (see Verizon's incessant blocking of competing products and services
) or the guise of "innovative" pricing -- whatever keeps most consumers generally confused and apathetic and therefore regulators and the press quiet.
As I noted yesterday, new FCC boss Tom Wheeler has been saying all the right things as people attempt to get a bead on just what kind of an FCC leader he'll be. Wheeler, a former cable and wireless industry lobbyist, has spent his first few weeks in office absolutely gushing about just how dedicated he plans to be in regards to boosting industry competition
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