ITIF: Ignore 'Paranoid Bloggers' And Pesky 'Populists' - The Comcast Merger Will Be Great

from the your-talking-points-suck dept

As I've been noting, Comcast lobbyists have certainly fired up their sound wall of paid PR folk, consultants, think tanks, and other policy tendrils in a fairly weak attempt to convince everyone that an immeasurably larger and more powerful Comcast is going to be a good thing for everybody. Most of the arguments (correctly) focus on the fact that Time Warner Cable and Comcast don't directly compete so there's no harm, while ignoring that Comcast's ever-increasing size makes it easier for Comcast to bully disruptive Internet video companies using usage caps, restrictive licensing agreements, and peering relationships.

Most of the editorials are quite a lot of fun, like this one by Doug Brake of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation. The ITIF, if you'd forgotten, was a big backer of SOPA and has championed all manner of IP maximalism, most recently through their support of the TTP agreement. They take money from broadband providers and the MPAA, not that Forbes or anybody else can ever bother to point this out. According to Brake, criticism of the merger is something that's being fabricated by "paranoid bloggers" and spreaders of "misinformation," whose "populist" thinking gives cable companies a bad rap:
"It is popular, especially in the blogosphere, to automatically distrust cable and telecommunications companies, a stance that often leads to inaccurate statements and misunderstandings."
Gosh, that distrust couldn't possibly come from the fact that Comcast is among the lowest ranked companies for customer satisfaction in what's the lowest ranked industry for customer satisfaction across all industries? Bi-annual rate hikes for channels never watched? Full-day technician visit windows that get bumped numerous times for no reason? Jacking up modem rental fees? Horrible customer support? Burying rate hikes misleadingly in below-the-line fees? Any of this ringing a bell, Doug? It's worth noting that brand impression of Time Warner Cable has actually somehow gotten even worse since the merger was announced, which is pretty impressive.

Brake stumbles forth valiantly to then argue that those worried about a larger Comcast needn't do so -- because competitive pressure from phone companies will keep Comcast executives honest:
"The broadband populists that dominate this conversation like to claim that DSL is not fast enough to be a competitor to cable. But some of DSL’s 31 million subscribers (compared to cable’s 51.5 million) might disagree. And there is good reason to expect DSL speeds to improve – new technology, called vectored DSL, promises 100 Mbps under the right circumstances. And of course, in 6 of the 19 metros, Verizon FIOS fiber service is a robust competitor."
First, I'm not entirely sure in what world being a "populist" is an insult; the dictionary definition of populism suggests someone who is looking out for the people (what a bunch of jerks). Second, if the argument is that the phone companies will keep Comcast honest as they grow, apparently Mr. Brake isn't aware of the fact that AT&T and Verizon are backing away from huge swaths of the fixed-line broadband market because they don't want to upgrade them (as in, ever), which would leave the freshly-merged Comcast Time Warner Cable with less competition than ever before. In turn, Comcast will soon have a greater ability to impose the usage caps they've been busy testing in uncompetitive markets without competitive repercussions. Brake then goes on to repeat another core merger supporter talking point -- Google Fiber will somehow keep Comcast honest:
"Let’s not forget another big announcement made on the heels of the merger proposal – Google has started early plans to expand its fiber build-out to nine new metro areas. The timing of Google’s release exposes a key flaw in Crawford’s arguments against the merger: immediately after Comcast’s announcement, many detractors dismissed Google fiber as a viable competitor to cable because it is in only a handful of cities."
Right, except that that Google Fiber announcement to "expand to nine new metro areas" never actually stated anything of the sort, something Brake would know if he'd actually read it. Google Fiber, which currently only serves a handful of users in Kansas City and Provo, Utah, simply announced it would work with cities in nine markets to examine improving infrastructure. One or two might actually see service sometime by 2015, but it's not keeping Comcast executives up at night anytime soon. This talking point that companies like Google Fiber and Hulu (which Comcast co-owns) will generate enough pressure to keep Comcast honest is laughable, but it keeps getting trotted out like an ugly show pony.

You'd think for the money Comcast is pouring into these think tanks annually, one of them would actually understand the industry they're writing about and be able to make coherent arguments in support of the merger. Surely there have to be some legitimate benefits to letting Comcast get immensely more massive? Perhaps suggest that shiny new taxpayer-subsidized skyscraper Comcast is building in Philadelphia will scare away the foul shard devils from the vile astral plane of Kerithuth? Maybe suggest the combined new super Comcast will impact the earth's gravitational pull just enough to give us all super powers that could help us fight said looming cross-dimensional invasion? Surely these groups can do better. Paranoid populists everywhere demand it!

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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Mar 2014 @ 10:35pm

    This merger is insane when it comes to competition driving better service and product. We really don't need a Comcast/TWC merger and wait a couple of years to see what develops. All you got to do is look at the US internet speeds vs prices compared to the rest of the world and it paints a very ugly picture of just what to expect.

    The internet infrastructure of the US is very similar to where electricity was when it was expanding into the nation. Those utility companies were wiring cities with denser populations per square mile but no one was interested in wiring the rural areas. Simply there was not enough profit in doing so for the expense. It took government intervention/financing for that to happen.

    Today most nations recognize that the internet is like electricity as far as the results for their citizens and their economies go. So much so that the UN has ruled it's to be recognized as a human right. Yet today go out into the rural areas and ask how many can actually tie into fiber. Unless they are lucky enough to be close to a trunk line, nobody has it and none are expecting it anytime soon.

    Meanwhile the cable companies and the DSL providers are looking for ways to dump the individual connections in favor of higher profit margins of cell phones. That's not going to drive innovation. It's going to drive cost per megabyte up.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Mar 2014 @ 12:09am

    From Comcast's FAQ section: s-launching

    "In the Fresno, California, market, we will begin trialing a Flexible-Data Option specifically designed for casual or light Internet users who typically use 5 GB of data or less a month. This option will be available only to Economy Plus customers and will provide a $5 credit if a customerís total monthly data usage is less than or equal to 5 GB per month. However, if a customer that chooses this option uses more than 5 GB of data in any given month, then she will not receive the $5 credit, and will be charged an additional $1 for each gigabyte of data used over the 5 GB included in the Flexible-Data Option."

    Wow, a whole $5 credit! If I go over 5GB and use, let's say 300GB, I'll end up paying $250 on top of the $60 'Economy Plus' subscription price. For a grand total of $310 for the entire month.

    I suppose a $5 credit, makes 'Flexible-Data' worth the gamble and risk...

    Remember folk, these predatory 'usage caps' are just the introductory 'honeymoon' prices, to break the regulatory ice. Wait until Comcast merges a few more times, and has over 90% of America's land-line ISP market.

    At this point, we might as well call for Comcast to be classified as a 'public utility', seeing as it's a country-wide monopoly. Obviously the free market has failed in the land-line ISP arena. We might as well call Comcast what it is, and regulate it as a country-wide public utility monopoly, at this point.

    It's all Comcast's fault things are heading this way. They wanted to be too big to fail. It looks like they've finally reached that point.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Mar 2014 @ 5:07am

    "The Comcast Merger Will Be Great"

    Yeah - for big wigs at Comcast & TW.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Mar 2014 @ 6:09am

    anyone who thinks that competition is bad and service even worse, let this deal go through 'cause you aint seen nothing yet!!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Mar 2014 @ 7:20am

    BTW, about those usage caps from Comcast: they're less than you think.

    I started using the Comcast Bandwidth tool and noticed my usage was far in excess of anything reasonable.

    I used network diagnostic tools and determined that Comcast was sending me 8 to 10 GB *each day* of internal network traffic (30-60 ARP pings per second) that were dutifully counted as bandwidth used. So even if I don't use any internet, I still will "use" 250 of my 300GB just being plugged in.

    It's a nice racket if you can bill people $10 per 5GB for traffic that isn't necessary, they didn't request, and they can't disable!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Mar 2014 @ 7:27am

    While I agree that this merger will most likely have negative affects, I don't believe these companies compete anyways. Cable companies don't compete except in, apparently, Austin.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      John Fenderson (profile), 5 Mar 2014 @ 8:20am


      The "doesn't compete" argument is a total red herring. The problem with this merger has nothing to do with whether or not the two companies were competitors, and has everything to do with expanding Comcast's de facto monopoly over a larger portion of the US.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    nasch (profile), 5 Mar 2014 @ 7:37am


    You'd think for the money Comcast is pouring into these think tanks annually, one of them would actually understand the industry they're writing about and be able to make coherent arguments in support of the merger. Surely there has to be some legitimate benefits to letting Comcast get immensely more massive?

    Why would you think that? There are no benefits to anyone but Comcast and their shareholders, so they have to make stuff up to sell everyone else on it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 Mar 2014 @ 5:36am

    Immeasurably? Really? The size of a "new" Comcast is very much quantifiable.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

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