Donald Trump Suddenly Pretends To Care About Comcast Antitrust Violations

from the dysfunction-junction dept

For years, smaller cable companies have complained that giants like Comcast do everything in their power to make life miserable (and expensive) for them. These smaller providers have complained that Comcast often mandates they buy and include NBC channels and regional sports networks in their lineups, driving up costs. Many of these companies have considered getting out of the TV business entirely as their margins get tighter and they find themselves increasingly out-maneuvered by ever-growing, vertically-integrated media, telecom, and broadcast giants like Comcast and AT&T.

This week, the American Cable Association, a coalition of around 700 mid-sized and small cable providers, simply issued yet another request to the DOJ to, you know, actually maybe do something about Comcast’s growing monopoly power:

“To help secure the benefits of a competitive pay-TV and broadband market for millions of consumers, the American Cable Association has asked antitrust law enforcers at the Department of Justice (DOJ) to open an investigation into the business practices of the vertically integrated media giant Comcast-NBCU, focusing on harms stemming from the dominant communications firm?s control of cable systems, TV stations, and regional sports networks (RSNs) concentrated in some of the largest local markets in the country.”

Their complaint notes that with the conditions now expired on Comcast’s 2011 merger with NBC, the company has greater leeway than ever to use its size, wealth, growing broadband monopoly and political power to bully smaller cable operators and consumers alike.

Normally these cries would simply be ignored in M&A manic America. Much like the TV market, smaller cable companies can’t compete with the immense political power Comcast’s wealth and size buys on Capitol Hill, so their concerns are pretty consistently ignored. As a result, whether we’re in the throes of Obama or Trump administrations, blindly letting the biggest media and telecom companies merge, then standing around with a dumb look on our collective faces as these titans do what they always do (raise rates and use their newfound power to hamper competitors) is kind of our thing.

Like many small businesses, the ACA pretty consistently issues these cries for help without anybody much giving a damn. But that dynamic changed when President Trump this week curiously decided to wade in and comment on the ACA’s filing:

So for one thing, it’s unlikely that Donald actually cares about Comcast’s monopoly power. After all, if he did, his FCC wouldn’t have just effectively neutered itself and net neutrality (and most meaningful oversight of predatory monopolies) at direct Comcast request. Don probably just saw something on NBC news that made him mad, and decided to punish Comcast for it in a passive aggressive way. And punish it did: Comcast’s stock dropped steeply on Monday of this week, and a dozen furrow-browed stories exploring Comcast’s antitrust power were published that would have otherwise never have been written.

Oddly, many outlets took the potential for a DOJ inquiry into Comcast’s monopoly power seriously. But there’s zero real indication that’s the case. As the assault on net neutrality should have made pretty clear, letting giant telecom operators like Comcast largely dictate most tech policy has been the Trump administration policy thus far, and that’s not likely to change. The DOJ isn’t going to suddenly investigate Comcast just because Don ran his mouth on Twitter, and it’s certainly not going to suddenly pursue remedies for an eight-year old merger.

Don was likely just being Don: jumping into the fray of a subject he doesn’t know much about because he saw some shit on TV that made him sad. And while it’s true that Don’s DOJ did sue AT&T to thwart (unsuccessfully) its Time Warner merger, it’s likely that had less to do with actually helping consumers, and more to do with hurting CNN or helping Trump ally Rupert Murdoch, who spent most of 2017 trying to scuttle the deal for competitive reasons. So yeah, it’s possible that the DOJ could ruffle some feathers at Comcast as punishment for critical NBC coverage of the President, but it’s just not likely with Comcast already having gotten most of what it wanted (most notably in the form of a self-immolating FCC in the hands of Ajit Pai).

Meanwhile, the ACA has made a pretty consistent habit of complaining about Ajit Pai’s failure to keep an eye out for the little guy, despite being breathless supporters of Pai’s appointment. Perhaps at some point the ACA can connect the dots between supporting politicians that don’t care about monopoly power, and policy that pretty clearly doesn’t care about monopoly power.

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Companies: at&t, comcast

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Comments on “Donald Trump Suddenly Pretends To Care About Comcast Antitrust Violations”

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28 Comments
hij (profile) says:

Serious discussions about tweets

Sadly, we are once again in the position of trying to have a serious conversation about a tweet. We have given up even trying to make a joke about what is happening and simply accepting that this is how adults are supposed to discuss important matters. Children in pre-school should be pointing at us and laughing, but they have better interpersonal skills.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Serious discussions

yeah, the point here was obviously just to bash Trump again

The particulars are totally unimportant in a Trump bashing essay; any Tweet or pretense is adequate to spark an attack

would be nice to seriously discuss any specific violations of specific Federal AntiTrust Law that COMCAST may have committed, but all we get is vague generalities. If COMCAST is such a huge monopolist it should be easy to point out its specific AntiTrust crimes

Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

First you put the ball on the tee, and then swing

Let us look at this realistically. The FCC and FTC are independent departments. Yes their heads are appointed by the Executive and are confirmed by the Senate, but they are independent of the Executive in their actions. To be clear, this does not mean that there wasn’t some quid pro quo prior to the appointments, but there should not be any interference by the Executive in any of their doings. The problem being here is who is supposed to look into any inproprieties in interaction between the Executive and independent agencies.

Now, the DoJ is a different story. They are part of the Executive branch, and direction to them is not only legal, but expected. That those directions may or may not be to our liking, there is nothing wrong with the fact of direction. Then why isn’t the DoJ looking into the FCC or FTC for innapropriate interaction with the Executive? Because all the innapropriate action took place before the department heads were Senate confirmed.

Then we have to think about the fact that Trump appointed an ‘acting’ head of the DoJ who probably couldn’t pass a basic security test due to his past behavior. When is that person going to be up for Senate confirmation? Now why is that?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: First you put the ball on the tee, and then swing

… good points for serious discussion.

Another related question would be: if the Constitution specifies only 3 branches of the Federal Government — how can “independent” regulatory agencies legally exist and function outside any of these 3 branches?

Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re: First you put the ball on the tee, and then swing

For that I think you need to look at the legislation that created those agencies. Congress has that power.

Also, I don’t think they operate outside of those agencies, the judiciary has adjudicated on the FCC’s actions in the past, and are about to do so again. Congress also has the power to change what those agencies do, as noted in many of the articles posted here on Techdirt.

You should read some.

Killercool (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: First you put the ball on the tee, and then swing

Puh-lease… This is probably the same dope who tries regularly to claim that the FTC, EPA, FDA, and Library of Congress are all "changing laws" when they exercise regulatory powers written as part of a law. Reading is like kryptonite to people like that.

This guy, and/or another like him, refuses to recognize Congress’s power to delegate, nor the fact that the Supreme Court recognized that power as Constitutional. The last guy I tried to have a discussion about the subject with even went so far as to try to imply the Supreme Court was in violation of the Constitution by deciding court cases about Constitutionality.

Gary (profile) says:

Re: Re: Three branches

Another related question would be: if the Constitution specifies only 3 branches of the Federal Government

Good question – and the actual answer is… Common Law!

Our legal system, being based on common law, is based on laws passed and judicial precedent. So therefore it is not limited by the wording of the constitution.

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