Comcast Using Minority Astroturf Groups To Argue Cable Set Top Box Competition Hurts Diversity
from the selling-you-out dept
The tactic was also a favorite among telecom lobbyists in their fight against net neutrality and Title II reclassification, with Comcast and AT&T paying a wide variety of purportedly pro-minority groups to argue that a level playing field and more consumer protections would somehow be horrible for minorities. Dozens of groups like the Hispanic Technology & Telecommunications Partnership (HTTP) frequented telecom industry events, took telecom industry funding, and were happy to repeat industry claims that net neutrality was a vile and unnecessary evil.
Fast forward to last month, when the FCC announced it would be pushing a new program aimed at bringing competition to the stagnant and captive cable set top box market. The cable industry immediately began to cry, generating a tidal wave of hand-wringing complaints about how taking aim at this $20 billion captive revenue market would raise prices, hurt puppies, damage privacy, and otherwise destroy the known universe.
But buried among the laundry list of the industry's half-cooked claims was the repeated argument that having a competitive cable set top box market would somehow hurt diversity. How having the choice of more hardware and more content than ever could possibly hurt minorities is never made clear. But the claim quickly and magically began popping up in a laundry list of editorials all over the Internet and in major papers nationwide. All of these editorials neatly parrot the cable industry's position almost verbatim, yet few if any clearly highlight any ties to the industry.
Nearly as soon as the FCC program was announced the cable industry formed the "Future of TV Coalition," something it calls a "diverse group of programmers, content creators, civic groups and television providers" who've joined forces to "celebrate and promote the thriving innovation" going on in the cable industry. And mysteriously, most of the groups taking part are the same groups that helped telecoms fight net neutrality. And many of their letters to the FCC mysteriously argue that we should leave the incredibly innovative cable set top box market alone:
"Why adopt a radical new approach and put all this innovation at risk in a market that is innovating, changing and providing so many new options already? Given the significant concerns regarding these proposed rules, and the rapid innovation occurring in the marketplace, it would be unwise to implement sweeping changes to the system currently in place. We urge the FCC to abandon these proposed new rules and protect viewer choice and diverse programming for all communities.Funny how this adoration of cable industry "innovation" so closely mirrors blog posts by cable's biggest lobby or by cable's least liked company. The beauty of these arrangements of course is that since telecom companies aren't dumb enough to put specific quid pro quo demands in writing, most of the groups involved can breathlessly insist the telecom money they're clearly taking in no way shapes their opinions, despite the fact they'll repeatedly come down on the anti-consumer side of tech policy debates time and time again. Companies like Comcast meanwhile, lead by its "Chief Diversity Officer" (read: top lobbyist David Cohen), can highlight these partnerships as entirely altruistic endeavors.
One of the fantasy scenarios many of these groups are pushing is that a company like Google will come in, "steal" the cable industry's hard work, and then somehow remove minority programming. This forced the FCC to issue a statement saying that the proposal simply takes existing programming and lineups and funnels it to new, potentially cheaper and better hardware, and doesn't impact programming and licensing agreements whatsoever:
"This proposal aims to introduce competition and innovation into the set top box market, finally giving consumers the choice of using devices and apps to access all of the programming they pay for. When it’s easier for content creators to reach consumers, through better interfaces, menus, search functions, and improved over-the-top integration, we would expect this to lead to more diverse programming accessed more easily — especially minority and independent programming. The proposal will have no impact on distribution and programming deals."When it comes to the cable set top box market, consumers pay $20 billion in fees a year for outdated hardware that's often worth a tiny fraction of the money being coughed up. While you can certainly argue about the best route to fix this problem, the practice itself is indefensible. Any minority or purported consumer advocacy group defending this aggressive pummeling of a captive market is actively harming its purported constituents, who may just want to rethink their cash donations to organizations with a repeated history of being cable industry parrots for hire.