Why Is The Boys And Girls Club Trying To Kill A Cable Monopoly's Merger Conditions?
from the with-friends-like-these dept
Earlier this month, we noted that Charter (Spectrum) had been lobbying the FCC to eliminate conditions affixed to its 2015 merger with Time Warner Cable. As part of those conditions Charter had to not only adhere to basic net neutrality (regardless of the fact that lobbyists had already killed FCC net neutrality rules), but it was also prohibited from imposing arbitrary, bullshit usage caps and overage fees, or engaging in the kind of “interconnection” shenanigans that caused Netflix streams to slow for Verizon customers earlier this decade. It also had to expand broadband coverage, which it failed utterly at.
Most of the conditions are fairly minor, expire in another few years anyway, and by and large protect consumers from the kind of behaviors cable and broadband monopolies are known for. As Charter lobbies the government, it’s employing some… strange bedfellows in its quest to kill the conditions. In New York that apparently includes the Niagara Falls Boys and Girls Club, which wrote a letter to the FCC urging the regulator to prematurely axe the conditions:
Time to ask the Niagara Falls Boys & Girls Club why they are using their precious resources to politically advocate that Buffalo/Niagara Falls Spectrum customers get slapped with data caps and a higher internet bill. Don't the disadvantaged already pay too much? @natebenson pic.twitter.com/kwKDlgfNUW
— Stop the Cap! (@stopthecap) July 21, 2020
In its letter, the Boys and Girls club insists that a recent $5,000 donation by Charter to the organization certainly helped it weather the COVID-19 storm, and that “lifting these conditions will level the playing field for Charter while having zero impact on the online video marketplace.”
The organization did not respond to a request for comment as to why it’s rushing to the defense of literally one of the least liked companies in America. Keep in mind, this is a company that lied to regulators so routinely about whether it had been meeting merger build out conditions, that the company was almost kicked out of New York State, something I’ve never seen in twenty years of covering telecom.
The organization’s claims also aren’t true. Usage caps aren’t technically necessary, drive up costs for consumers (most notably low income communities), and are routinely abused anti-competitively by giant ISPs. They saddle consumers with additional, confusing costs, something that’s not particularly helpful during a pandemic-induced economic crisis. While Charter’s merger probably should have been blocked completely, the conditions actively protect the folks the Boys and Girls Club is supposed to be representing, and opposing them undermines the groups constituents.
Of course, corporations funding organizations in exchange for support for terrible policies is nothing new.
A wide variety of groups take telecom cash to repeat whatever they’re told, whether it’s rural Texas school associations, the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association, civil rights advocacy organizations, or even balloonist clubs. Some of these groups are created specifically for this purpose. Other times, these groups are “co-opted” without fully understanding what they’re actually supporting in a bid to keep funding flowing. For lobbyists the overall is simple: to create the illusion of broad support for bad ideas the actual public — minority or otherwise — actually oppose.
And, to be clear, most objective parties don’t support eliminating some fairly modest merger conditions affixed to one of the most despised monopolies in America. Of course as the FCC fielded comments up until July 22, a lot of similar groups were doing the same thing hoping nobody notices:
The values of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. included raising your internet bill? According to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of LA, letting Spectrum data cap your connection is an example of "progressive social change." You'll need more than change to pay the bill. pic.twitter.com/nRqqbaw2X2
— Stop the Cap! (@stopthecap) July 22, 2020
Most of the time this kind of undocumented quid pro quo (we’ll donate to a new event center if you support deregulation or our latest merger) simply involves making a few filings to the FCC that the broader public never sees (and the press never covers because this sort of thing doesn’t exactly drive ad eyeballs). But the efforts still routinely undermine the constituents these groups are supposed to be representing, and groups should at least take the time to understand the positions they’re taking before wading into the fray.