Comcast Paying Minority Rights Groups To Parrot Merger Support

from the repeat-after-me-if-you'd-like-to-keep-your-funding dept

I’ve already talked a little bit about the media sound wall Comcast will construct to try and convince the press, public and regulators that their planned $42 billion merger with Time Warner Cable is a wonderful idea for everyone involved. Like any company with a healthy lobbyist budget, Comcast pays think tanks, consultants, PR reps, editorial writers, various front groups and a myriad of other policy tendrils to all repeat the same mantra: whatever it is we want will be great and you have nothing to worry about. As we saw with AT&T’s attempted takeover of T-Mobile, anybody and everybody who wants their Comcast money to keep flowing will come out in support of the deal, whether it’s rural Texas school associations, the U.S. Cattlemen’s Associations or even “balloonists.”

One specifically important cornerstone of these lobbying efforts involves paying minority advocacy groups to parrot your positions, given lobbyists appear to believe that these groups in particular provide an important additional layer of artificial, grass roots legitimacy to your entirely-artificial support base. AT&T’s T-Mobile deal, for example, received ample praise from groups like the The Hispanic Institute, the Latino Coalition, and the Minority Media and Telecommunications Council, all of which took funding from AT&T while insisting that less competition would bring great things to American consumers.

Comcast’s lobbying approach for the Time Warner Cable merger isn’t all that different. The New York Times notes that the company is paying groups like The United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce to sing the praises of Comcast’s latest effort to get more powerful:

“…what the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce did not mention in its statement praising the transaction was that it had collected at least $320,000 over the last five years from Comcast’s charitable foundation, which is run in part by David L. Cohen, the Comcast executive who oversees the corporation’s government affairs operations…And (top Comcast lobbyist David) Cohen adamantly rejected any suggestion that the corporation’s history of supporting nonprofit groups and charities, particularly groups that serve African-Americans, Latinos and Asians, was motivated by a desire to build political allies.”

The usual defense from companies is that this is just us being altruistic, even though the company involved usually sends these organizations an e-mail with a list of talking points they’d like to see parroted. Losing funding if you don’t play along is usually strongly implied:

“But even one of Comcast’s own lobbyists said in an interview that the relationship with some groups had a transactional flavor. “If you have a company like Comcast that has been with them for a long time and continues to support them, they will go to bat for them,” the contract lobbyist for Comcast said, asking that he not be named because he was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly, “even if it means they have become pawns.”

The sad part is that these organizations obviously wind up rooting against their constituents’ own best self-interests in the quest for continued funding. An AT&T acquisition of T-Mobile, for example, would have killed off T-Mobile and driven prices up, neither of which would have helped minorities (or anybody else). While the Comcast deal is different because Time Warner Cable and Comcast don’t compete, the deal could still result in greater vertical integration, a tougher time for small and minority-owned media businesses, and the imposition of data caps and broadband overages across a broader overall market area (aka: higher prices).

Combine this sound wall of artificial support with the oodles of money Comcast is throwing at Congress, The President, and the FCC, and it starts to get easier and easier to buy approval for bad ideas. That’s before you even point out that former FCC boss Michael Powell now runs the NCTA, the cable industry’s biggest lobbying organization, Former FCC Commissioner Meredith Attwell Baker now lobbies for Comcast, or DOJ Antitrust Division director William J. Baer represented NBCUniversal during Comcast’s acquisition. Did I mention Comcast’s David Cohen is a big Obama fundraiser?

While this greasy wheeling might make the deal get approved, it doesn’t change the truth that your argument or idea isn’t very good if you have to pay people to support it.

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Companies: comcast, time warner cable

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Comments on “Comcast Paying Minority Rights Groups To Parrot Merger Support”

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50 Comments
bob (profile) says:

It's common....

How much does Google pay the EFF to fight for “net neutrality”? What about the CDT? If you look at any of the groups campaigning for “net neutrality” you can probably find a cash payment from Google or one of the other major companies like Netflix. (Although it seems like Netflix may have decided it was just cheaper to pay Comcast than all of the lobbyists.)

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: It's common....

The EFF and the CDT stand for internet freedom and net neutrality, regardless of who sponsors them. That’s the reason that Google gives them support. Google hasn’t gone out to find random foundations to donate to, in order to build up support for internet freedoms (unless they have, and you just didn’t list those, which would be dumb of you).

bob (profile) says:

Re: Re: It's common....

Sure. You go on believing that. They blather on about taking care of my “rights”, but they could care less about my rights to protect my work. They only care about the “right” of big billionaires to take my copyrighted work without sharing any of their billions in ad revenue with me.

They don’t care about my freedoms and they don’t care about yours. They only care about the freedom of big billionaires to take whatever they want without sharing with the people who do the work.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: It's common....

” but they could care less about my rights to protect my work. “

You have no right to protect ‘your’ work. You are not entitled to have the government grant you copy protection privileges and to enforce them. You are not entitled to anything the government gives you and a monopoly privilege is something the government gives you. There is absolutely nothing morally wrong with freely copying what I want as I please and doing what i want with it. If these laws are to exist they should only exist to promote the progress and serve the public interest. But you don’t care about public domain theft which is what you should be screaming about. Your comment perverts the intended purpose of IP and changes it into something completely different and it is arguably the biggest reason I want IP laws abolished. ABOLISH IP LAWS!!! You have no right.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4 It's common....

and the Constitution gives congress the (legal) right to grant these privileges only to promote the progress. That is, to serve a public interest. and it’s supposed to be for a limited time. But it keeps getting retroactively extended to the point that nothing enters the public domain anymore. That’s public domain theft.

But you don’t care anything about the constitution and pretending that you just makes you look more dishonest.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 It's common....

” why don’t you move to Somalia and enjoy the law-free life.”

Then why is there an entire Wikipedia article discussing their legal structure.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Judiciary_of_Somalia

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Somalia#Law

Seriously, you need to go back in time twenty years ago on cable T.V. and make anything up where you can get away with it because there is no one that can call you out on it. Because over here you just make yourself look foolish.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 It's common....

” And while you’re at it, why don’t you move to Somalia and enjoy the law-free life.”

Also, when the best argument you can come up with is a strawmen then everyone knows that your argument is complete bunk. No one is arguing against having laws. I am merely arguing against having certain laws. Arguing that IP laws are bad isn’t the same as arguing that all laws are bad.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 It's common....

But…Somalia, Somalia, Somalia, Somalia. Is that the only note that people like you can sing? Your “Somalia” crap is played out. Find a new schtick.
And just so you know, the constitution ENUMERATES rights, it doesn’t GRANT them. So how have these “constitutional rights” been working out for us lately?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: It's common....

If that’s how you feel, please STOP producing copyrighted work. We don’t need your pathetic, miserable contributions to society and culture and art and science.

Someone else will simply do what you’ve done, better. And unlike you, they won’t be an egotistical self-important prat whose primary concern is getting paid.

bob (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 It's common....

Really? Perhaps you live in a community where the newspaper has been run out of town by GOOG. Or maybe it’s on life support. How are your taxes? How’s the corruption working out for you. Journalism and copyrighted work is much cheaper than corruption.

And I’m just talking about journalism. Perhaps you like mid-range movies where the plot is driven by character not special effects. Surprise! Hollywood doesn’t make them for you anymore because pirate scum have eroded that market. HBO is the last redoubt of quality content and that’s because they’re able to charge a decent price for high-quality content.

And I’ll believe your last jibe about getting paid when I hear that you’re volunteering at your job and living on scraps from the dumpster. Artists deserve to be paid and not ripped off by internet anarchists.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 It's common....

I hardly consider newspapers ‘journalism’. Never were. More like propaganda. Techdirt is much better journalism than newspapers of the past (even though it’s not really a journalist site).

The current state of copy’right’ is the corruption that we face. Retroactive extensions/public domain theft is corruption. Government established broadcasting and cableco monopolies is a product of corruption. It’s the corruption that the traditional media you want to support with these laws tries to avoid reporting on (or when they do report on it they deliver one sided propaganda). That is corruption.

If you want to fund your version of ‘journalism’ or if you want to fund movies that you like then fund it alone. Out of your own pocket. But don’t force others to subsidize what you want by sacrificing their rights and freedoms.

A: I don’t believe your doomsday scenario will occur in the absence of IP laws. Your scare mongering is not convincing anyone.

B: Even if the result of IP abolition is your alleged doomsday scenario I can live with it. My natural right to copy is more important to me and this is a risk I’m more than willing to take.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: It's common....

“They don’t care about my freedoms”

You are free to make content or not make content, I don’t care. You are not free to force your desired (IP) laws on others and to use them to restrict my freedoms. (IP) Laws restrict freedom, their absence isn’t what enables them.

bob (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 It's common....

You’re kind of a moron, aren’t you. Laws reduce freedom of leeching scum who only want to take. That’s why we punish rapists, murderers and thieves. We voted as a society to create IP laws to protect the artists because we cherish their works.

The reality is that you have no right to take our work. You can go try to live on public domain works. There are a bunch of people who give their work away for free. If you’re such an anti-IP zealot, I dare you to live an honest life and consume only public domain work. See how long you go watch cat videos on YouTube.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 It's common....

“That’s why we punish rapists, murderers and thieves.”

Your argument is that IP law is good law because it exists and since other laws are good laws and they exist this means that all existing laws are good laws including IP laws. This is a non-sequitur.

No, if you want IP laws to exist the burden is on you to prove their social value and to justify their existence. It’s not on me to show that they shouldn’t exist. You have failed to meet that burden and your poor logic suggests that you can’t meet such a burden. The current existence of a law does not itself justify it.

Again, arguing against some laws doesn’t mean arguing against all laws. and comparing copying with murder is silly. Murder is morally wrong. There is absolutely nothing morally wrong with copying. Don’t force your arbitrary morals on me. Even if it’s against the law to drink water that doesn’t make it morally wrong neither does the existence of a law make the law a good law. Just because IP law exists doesn’t mean it’s good law.

Your argument is that IP law is good law because it exists and since other laws are good laws and they exist this means that all existing laws are good laws including IP laws. This is a non-sequitur.

” We voted as a society to create IP laws to protect the artists because we cherish their works.”

Again, you don’t care about the constitution so stop pretending that you do. Laws exist only to serve the public interest. To promote the progress. If we are better off without these laws then we should abolish them.

If you cherish the works of artists then you are free to fund them alone. Don’t impose laws on others.

This sentence shows a complete lack of historical knowledge regarding how these laws were created and who was behind them (ie: distributors, not the public and not content creators) and who lobbies for them (ie: Disney, the MPAA, the RIAA) and how they are passed, negotiated, and extended (in secret, like with SOPA, by politicians who pass them in exchange for campaign contributions and revolving door favors). These laws are not a product of democracy but you don’t care anything about democracy.

I did not vote for these laws and I, as a member of society, want these laws abolished. I am expressing my viewpoints here. That’s not to say only my views count but the whole point of me and others expressing our views and arguments is so that we can have a say in the legislative process. If enough people disagree with these laws then they should be abolished. I, for one, disagree with them and would like a democratic government to also consider my views. That’s why I express them to others.

” I dare you to live an honest life and consume only public domain work.”

Copy’right’ laws have already hindered the ability of others to distribute and profit from permissibly licensed works. They have taken down Megaupload, for instance, which provided content creators different opportunities to make money. I am not willing to sacrifice the use of copy’right’ works in the current legal landscape (and I don’t see anything morally wrong with freely copying so if I want to freely copy try and stop me), I am willing to sacrifice their existence in the absence of these laws (that is, in exchange for what I get in return, my right to freely copy what I please as I please without worrying about infringement).

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4 It's common....

The OP itself should tell you what kind of ‘democracy’ we have

“That’s before you even point out that former FCC boss Michael Powell now runs the NCTA, the cable industry’s biggest lobbying organization, Former FCC Commissioner Meredith Attwell Baker now lobbies for Comcast, or DOJ Antitrust Division director William J. Baer represented NBCUniversal during Comcast’s acquisition. Did I mention Comcast’s David Cohen is a big Obama fundraiser? “

Some democracy, where politicians pass laws based on what they personally get in return and not based on their duty to serve the public interest.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 It's common....

“We voted as a society to create IP laws to protect the artists because we cherish their works.”

Also, Ip laws aren’t about ‘protecting the artists’. Artists are not entitled to any protection and misconstruing their purpose to something else is arguably the biggest reason I want them abolished. IP laws should only be about serving a public interest and promoting the progress and expanding the public domain (which doesn’t happen anymore thanks to public domain theft).

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: It's common....

Okay, now this is just funny.

First, you’re trying to paint net neutrality as a bad thing, when really the only groups who don’t like it are the giant companies who really like the idea of double dipping and charging twice for the same thing.

The idea that net neutrality is somehow anti-creator is a joke, since being charged the same whether you’re a big, established company or a new startup is what enables smaller startups and companies to grow. If they have to face a massive tax in the form of ‘sponsored data’ plans or the like, just to be on an equal footing with established groups/companies, a great many of them will simply never get off the ground, so if anything net neutrality is very much pro-creator.

Second, trying to paint supporting groups that already support stuff like net neutrality as some sort of nefarious action, as though they wouldn’t possibly be supporting equal treatment on the internet without a company like Google giving them funding, that’s just a desperate attempt to shoehorn Google into the discussion, and try and make groups that fight for the rights of the people seem just as bad as the groups they’re fighting against.

While normally I’d consider this a cheap shot, your comment, and in particular your attacking pro-net neutrality groups in an article about Comcast paying off people to support them, I’d say makes it fair game so I’ll just toss it out.

So then bob, how much is Comcast paying you for your ‘opinion’ here?

Zonker says:

Re: Re: It's common....

I’d rather a middle ground less susceptible to corruption but still allows donations to causes and campaigns: only allow employer matched donations to whatever groups their employees donate to. No direct corporate donations. The workers/public has their voice amplified by their employer and the employer still gets the tax deduction to encourage donations. The corporation heads don’t have a direct voice but through their workers as representatives.

How to avoid corporations from discriminatory hiring practices based on what causes you support may be a problem without anti-discriminatory law enforcement, but that risk already exists and hopefully enough employees would be empowered to support causes that enforce nondiscrimination.

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: It's common....

How much does Google pay the EFF to fight for “net neutrality”?

Not much it seems. First off, EFF and Google have different positions on net neutrality, so if they’re paying, they’re not getting their money’s worth.

Second, it’s simply untrue that Google is dumping tons of money into EFF. As EFF has disclosed, it received $10,000 from Google directly, and about $200,000 in “employee matches” meaning that Google will match what its employees choose to donate to.

That was in 2010, when EFF’s income was about 3.6 million. So, even if we include all of Google’s matching (which again, is not by the choice of Google), we’re talking… about 5%.

Meanwhile, EFF has come down hard against Google on multiple other issues, mostly focused on privacy.

Third, some people point to the $1 million that Google did eventually give EFF, but that wasn’t by choice, but was the result of a lawsuit concerning a Google privacy violation, in which the judge ordered Google to give money to a bunch of privacy groups WHO OPPOSED Google’s practices, including EFF.

Fourth, Google has basically gone totally silent on net neutrality over the past four years anyway. They — much to the annoyance of many of us — have backed away from their strong support for neutrality as the company has become more powerful and also started running a network of its own. Many of us are uncomfortable with this.

Fifth, this is totally different than what was being discussed in the article in the first place. This is about Comcast paying groups whose issues are totally unrelated to Comcast’s to speak out in support. EFF was formed around internet legal and policy issues — and, as far as I can tell, has never changed its position on net neutrality.

So, yeah, as per usual, you don’t know wtf you’re talking about. Stop arguing against demons that don’t exist. They just make you look ignorant and nutty.

Anonymous Coward says:

Netflix reaches streaming traffic agreement with Comcast

http://news.cnet.com/8301-1023_3-57619353-93/netflix-reaches-streaming-traffic-agreement-with-comcast/

IOW, Comcast has managed to find a way to charge consumers more for Netflix (since Netflix will pass its costs back to consumers) than for other services. The ISP charges twice for traffic, they charge the consumer and the content providers for the same traffic. It’s equivalent to the post office charging both the sender and the receiver to deliver a letter.

Nicolas (profile) says:

Internet Essentials

Comcast has been building a relationship with such groups via its Internet Essentials program. As I understand it, it was compelled by the government to offer low-cost Internet to low-income families with kids in school, so it created Internet Essentials. But a household can only qualify for the program if it has not had Comcast cable for at least three months prior to applying. Since Comcast generally has a de facto monopoly in most areas it serves, and Internet is damned near indispensable, the three month rule keeps the number of eligible households to a bare minimum. But Comcast uses Internet Essentials to promote its humanitarianism and to build bridges with the minority non-profits.

Jay (profile) says:

Re: Internet Essentials

“The proposal of any new law or regulation of commerce which comes from capitalists ought always to be listened to with great precaution, and ought never to be adopted, till after having been long and carefully examined, not only with the most scrupulous, but with the most suspicious attention. It comes from an order of men, whose interest is never exactly the same with that of the public, who have generally an interest to deceive and even to oppress the public, and who accordingly have, upon many occasions, both deceived and oppressed it.?

— Adam Smith

anon says:

Bought and paid for

The US is in such a mess with laws bought and paid for and monopolies sprouting up where they definitely do not need to be and where they are actually costing the country universal competition.

Hopefully when the country starts losing billions to others due to a lack of infrastructure improvements , maybe then the gov will ignore the legal bribes and do what is in the best interest of the country and not one tiny small part of the country, actually not one massive bank account offshore.

Does America not realsie how they have become the exact opposite to what they try to portray themselves and have become the laughing stock of the world.

vastrightwing (profile) says:

Force their hand

In my town, we only have three major players in the ISP space: Comcast, Verizon and RCN. This is hardly competition. The lowest price you can get an Internet connection is $49.00. I repeat. $49. RCN is $49, Verizon is $53 and Comcast is $55. What are my choices? Effectively none. You see, they only offer this price point as the lowest possible cost. Never mind that I don’t need the bandwidth they want me to pay for. They don’t offer any other options because they don’t need to. The only thing I can do is sign up for RCN and pay a discounted term for 2 years. Then I’ll have to switch again as their rates will match the others eventually. Once Comcast assimilates their peer, obviously prices will start increasing. It is written.

These magical consumer savings, you see, never ever materialize. Sure, they materialize for Comcast. Comcast sees savings as they trim their redundant workforce: SAVINGS! Less people working. Consolidate: SAVINGS! Less overhead. More leverage against content creators: SAVINGS! (but only for Comcast) Now if only Comcast could have less regulation and restrictions and more laws to lock out potential competition. Now we’re talking! Cha ching!

What can we do to combat this? Wean ourselves off the crack the cable companies sell to us. Say no to $100+ bills. When people cut the cord, they will listen. Try to get local authorities to regulate the prices again. Their hand must be forced. There is no other way.

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