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
Netflix has thrown their support behind cities eager to build their own broadband without interference from incumbent ISPs and lobbyists. In a filing with the FCC
, Netflix argues that the FCC can and should over-rule states like Tennessee, North Carolina and elsewhere, which have allowed ISPs to literally write the state telecom laws prohibiting towns and cities from improving their own broadband networks -- even in cases where nobody else will.
As we noted last week
, two different cities with their own broadband networks (Wilson, NC and Chattanooga, Tennessee) have formally asked the FCC to declare that laws in their states hindering community broadband aren't enforceable, giving FCC boss Tom Wheeler the perfect opportunity to back up claims that he'd take action. Such bills are written and lobbied for by companies like Comcast, AT&T and Time Warner Cable, and often restrict local citizen rights to determine for themselves what the best course of action for their community is.
The United States' largest community fiber broadband effort is Utah's UTOPIA, which has been under assault by large incumbent ISPs like Qwest
(now CenturyLink) since before the first customer was even connected. UTOPIA has for much of a decade successfully fended off both these ISPs and a good deal of managerial incompetence on their own part, and is on the cusp of securing a significant cash boost
from an Australian investment firm.
For the second time in as many months, FCC boss Tom Wheeler has hinted that the FCC may take steps to pre-empt laws written and passed by broadband incumbent ISPs that prohibit towns and cities from building their own broadband -- even in cases where nobody else will.
In a blog post
, Wheeler uses the utility-provided broadband services by the city of Chattanooga, Tennessee (see our overwhelmingly-positive user reviews
of EFB Fiber) as an example of how many of these projects can work out, despite a decade of hang-wringing from the usual folks eager to defend the status quo.
Paying off national and state politicians along with lobbyists to get your way seems like a tradition within the internet/TV business. When AT&T didn’t want competition in Wisconsin
, they paid off politicians to dress up AT&T’s view as “fiscal responsibility." When Verizon wanted to sniff out the Canadian telecom market
, they hired a slew of lobbyists to see if they could the country to change their telecom rules.
If there's one thing I've probably griped about more than any other in the now thirteen-plus years I've written here, it's probably buried below the line fees. For years ISPs have buried the ordinary cost of doing business below the line in itemized fees. story continues..
Last fall the FAA lifted restrictions on in-flight electronics use during take offs and landing, and last January the FCC began rulemaking to lift the restrictions on in-flight phone calls. Wheeler and the FCC took a lot of heat for that move
(and is still fielding mostly negative comments
on the idea).
In April of last year, wireless carriers and the government announced
that they'd be collaborating on building a new nationwide database to track stolen phones (specifically the IMEI number, not just the SIM card ID). The goal is to reduce the time that stolen phones remain useful, thereby drying up the market for stolen phones and reducing the ability of criminals to use the devices to dodge surveillance.
We recently noted how the UK's effort to force ISPs to filter porn by default wasn't working very well, with simple chrome proxy extensions
allowing porn hunters to easily bypass the filters. Worse perhaps is the fact that the filters aren't even really working, not only failing to filter a significant number of major porn sites, but accidentally filtering sexual education and rape support websites
Blogger Peter Hansteen has since put the filters through their paces, and found they're filtering a number of technology and civil liberty websites as well
...checking a semi-random collection of mainly fairly mainstream and some rather obscure tech URLs shows that far from focusing on its stated main objective, keeping innocent children away from online porn, the UK Internet filter shuts the UK's children out of a number of valuable IT resources, was well as several important civil liberties resources...if this is the true face of Parental Controls, I for one would take using controls like these as a sufficient indicator that the parents in question are in fact not qualified to do their parenting without proper supervision.
The filtered websites aren't exactly obscure, either, including Slashdot, Ars Technica, and the EFF. The broken filters come at the cost of higher rates for UK broadband users, as ISPs pass on the filter costs to users. The UK government continues to be rather tone deaf to the entire pile of dysfunction, suggesting they'd like to take things further by censoring websites that promote "extremist" views.
As noted last week
, the leaked draft of the Trans Pacific Partnership trade agreement not only tries to foist wonky US copyright law upon the globe, it's pushing for numerous entertainment-industry initiatives like content filters, greater ISP liability, the disconnection of pirates from the Internet, and even language that could kill off Aereo.
It's all continually illustrative of how TPP negotiations have utterly excluded not only consumers, but all intelligent but discordant voices -- unless you're one of the 600 lobbyists invited to negotiations.
Wikileaks this week released a copy
of the latest version of the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) that has been under construction behind closed doors for years. As we've long noted
, the TPP attempts to take some of the worst aspects of U.S.
Speaking before a Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy yesterday
, Robert Litt, general counsel at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, insisted the NSA has absolutely no idea how often it collects data on American Citizens. What's more, Litt proclaimed it would violate citizen privacy to try and do so.
The entertainment industry's "Copyright Alert System" (aka "six strikes) was launched back in February
with the cooperation of major ISPs including AT&T, Verizon, Comcast and Time Warner Cable. While the program integrates "educational" material and a variety of short-lived punishments ranging from throttling to click through warnings, early indications are the program hasn't had much if any impact on BitTorrent piracy traffic
for a variety of reasons (users hiding behind VPNs or proxies, no punishment after the sixth "strike").
You might have noticed that AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and company were very, very quiet during this latest NSA-surveillance related scuff up. That's in part because unlike a few of the more modern tech companies (like Yahoo
, who fought secretive rubber-stamped FISA court requests), the telcos yelled "how high?" when asked to repeatedly trample privacy and wiretap laws.
A group of Conservatives, led by Libertarian-leaning Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.), are pushing to have NSA surveillance funding pulled
unless the agency reins in some of its aggressive wholesale spying on Americans.
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