The Comcast/Time Warner Merger & Net-Neutrality: What Does it Mean for Broome County?

By C. Arthur Reavis

What does this merger mean for local Time Warner Cable customers? After all, Broome County is pretty much ‘Time Warner County’ when it comes to Broadband & Cable TV service, unless you have a satellite, and even then you have to rely on TWC for broadband?

Comcast is the Nation’s largest provider of broadband and cable entertainment, TWC is the Nation’s second largest. If the merger happens Comcast/TWC will own 33 million broadband connections and be in 19 out of the 20 largest markets in America. The merger appears to violate existing antitrust laws, based on the Government’s own mathematical formula called the Herfindahl­Hirschman Index (HHI). The HHI measures the concentration of a given market. Simply put, it’s a way for the government to see if a merger will create “monopoly­like” conditions. And you guessed it, the Comcast /TWC merger fails. Even former FCC Commissioner, Michael Copps, has been quoted as saying: “This is so over the top it ought to be dead on arrival at the FCC.” End of story, right? Wrong!

The merger was the brainchild of TWC CEO Rob Marcus who will “earn” an $80 million “golden parachute” if the deal goes through on top of the $10 million annually he currently makes. He, therefore, is trying to spin this as a boon for TWC customers (aka: you and me). He might be correct on one level: customer service. After all, TWC is ranked, by a poll, 2nd worst in customer service, second only to AT&T. What Marcus fails to mention in his spin-job is that Comcast is ranked 6th worst: Bragging rights? Readers: When it comes to customer service TWC sucks and Comcast sucks slightly less. And the suck­i­tude only increases from there. Comcast’s chief lobbyist, David Cohen, admits: “We’re certainly not promising that customer bills are going to go down or even increase less rapidly.”

Which begs the question: Why might this deal, in spite of violating the Government’s own anti­trust laws, go through? Politics & money! It’s noteworthy that Comcast’s CEO, Brian Roberts, and chief lobbyist, David Cohen, are HIGHLY connected to the President, FCC, and Congress. Comcast spent $6.7 million on members of the House, with extra focus on members of the Subcommittee on Communications and Technology. Additionally, Comcast CEO Roberts and Chief Lobbyist Cohen have collectively attended or sponsored state dinners and golf games with the President and fund­raisers for both parties. Moreover, Brian Roberts is sitting on the President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness!

It gets worse for consumers and internet users when you consider how this affects Net­Neutrality (NN) (the idea that the internet should be completely free of paid bias and corporate censorship). Right now, theoretically, Amazon or Netflix can’t pay an internet service provider to give them preferential treatment to their content; corporations or individuals cannot pay for the websites to load faster than others. It also means that the Rupert Murdoch or the Koch brothers can’t pay Comcast to slow or block content of political opposition.

However, Comcast already seems to be flaunting NN. Comcast and Netflix stuck a deal wherein Netflix has agreed to pay Comcast an undisclosed sum to directly connect to their network. This will supposedly increase streaming speeds for Netflix users. Since this deal was reached, a Federal Court ruled that the FCC, which is already influenced by Comcast, cannot regulate the internet essentially killing Net­Neutrality, that is unless the FCC changes how they approach the issue, which the FCC has done, but with a much weaker stance.

The FCC, in spite of 25 State governments (including NY) and the Justice Department “looking into this deal” for anti­trust violations, is now taking the tact that it will prevent Internet Service Providers from blocking any “legal” websites or services and attempt to restrict, but not make illegal, discrimination. Big deal!  

The fact that Netflix had to pay Comcast to supply their service has NN advocates extremely concerned. If Comcast, for example, began favoring Fox News by forcing customers to pay for Al Jazeera News content and not Fox’s this could drastically change how millions of Americans get their information. This would not necessarily be limited to the major networks­ it includes EVERYTHING on the net.

With the incestuous relationship in “OUR” Country between Governmental Regulatory Agencies and Corporations/1%­ers’ (think of how the big telecom companies participated in NSA spying) it seems that if NN is not upheld it could lead to Corporate/Governmental censorship of the internet: Say hello to little China! Please call your State & Federal representatives and insist they pressure the FCC & the Justice to block this deal. It is not only bad for Broome County residence, but bad for OUR country and democracy as well.




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