Comcast Using Minority Astroturf Groups To Argue Cable Set Top Box Competition Hurts Diversity

from the selling-you-out dept

For years one of the greasier lobbying and PR tactics by the telecom industry has been the use of minority groups to parrot awful policy positions. Historically, such groups are happy to take financing from a company like Comcast, in exchange repeating whatever memos are thrust in their general direction, even if the policy being supported may dramatically hurt their constituents. The tactic of co-opting these groups helps build the illusion of broad support for awful policy, and was well documented during AT&T's attempted takeover of T-Mobile, and Comcast's attempted takeover of Time Warner Cable.

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.

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  • icon
    teknosapien (profile), 9 Feb 2016 @ 10:01am

    I think this is what is causing the rise in

    Other forms of media. Hulu, Google, Netflix, Amazon's media service. All these types of companies are gaining a foothold because educated people are cutting the cord and going to them because they are fed up with being held captive. Face it the only way to get rid of some ISP's is to sell your house and move.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 Feb 2016 @ 10:03am

    "For years one of the greasier lobbying and PR tactics by the telecom industry has been the use of minority groups to parrot awful policy positions."

    I feel that this is demeaning to minority groups and they should be insulted that an influential corporation will stoop so low as to try and find a way to use minority groups for the corporation's self serving agenda. It really shows how unethical and distasteful these corporations are and reflects bad character on their part.

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

  • identicon
    AJ, 9 Feb 2016 @ 10:04am

    "Historically, such groups are happy to take financing from a company like Comcast, in exchange repeating whatever memos are thrust in their general direction, even if the policy being supported may dramatically hurt their constituents."

    The only way to fix the system is to take the money out of it. Like puppets on a string, greed will make even the toughest puppets puppet.

    IMO Corporations or Business's should not be allowed to donate to the political system or support, fund, or field lobbyists, in any way shape or form. Their position is not ideological, but profit driven, and because of this alone, it has no business impacting any government that claims to be by and for the people.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 9 Feb 2016 @ 10:13am

      Re:

      (to continue)

      What I would really like to ask Whatever is what does he think of this sort of behavior by big corporations? Does he find exploiting minority groups, taking advantage of them in this way, to push for their self serving agenda as being acceptable or despicable? What is his big corporate defense for this awful behavior that treats minorities as though they can be used by corporations as a means to a self serving end?

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

  • icon
    jlaprise (profile), 9 Feb 2016 @ 10:19am

    *cough* Carterphone *cough*

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 Feb 2016 @ 11:56am

    Karl, how many times does Comcast have to tell you, David Cohen is not a lobbyist. He just wines and dines politicians, promotes Comcast's position, and other non-lobbyist activities. /sarc

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

  • identicon
    Mark Wing, 9 Feb 2016 @ 1:55pm

    Let's be honest here. Comcast would feed minorities into a wood chipper if it increased profits and they thought they could legally justify it.

    All their moral compass points to is money.

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

    • icon
      Anonymoose Custard (profile), 9 Feb 2016 @ 3:09pm

      Re:

      The same is true of any public corporation. The problem is that investors enforce perverse incentives through their own simple objectives. Investors don't care about how the money is made, so long as it's made; and the executives do anything in their power to meet that goal, provided the consequences are cheap enough to justify the move.

      I think we need to force ISPs and utilities (and a few others, like pharma) to reincorporate as public-benefit corporations, so that profits aren't the sole driving factor in business decisions.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 9 Feb 2016 @ 5:44pm

        Re: Re:

        It's both sad and pathetic that big corporations only see minority groups as nothing but an opportunity to exploit them for personal gain. I mean, who thinks up this stuff? What were they thinking?

        Executive: "How can we exploit minority groups to get this self serving law passed?"

        Staff: "I know, we can offer them money in exchange for telling politicians and everyone how great these laws are!!"

        Executive: "GREAT IDEA. You're BRILLIANT!!!"

        Staff: "I know I am."

        What a perverse mentality.

        I'm still waiting for Whatever to tell us what he thinks of this practice. Does he support it because it gets big corporations what they want? Or does he condemn it as being unacceptable.

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

  • identicon
    Pixelation, 9 Feb 2016 @ 6:59pm

    Oh Comcast,

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

  • identicon
    Pixelation, 9 Feb 2016 @ 7:00pm

    Oh Comcast,

    Comsact, Comast... you greedy fucks. It'll be the end of you.

    Sincerely,

    The Future

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 Feb 2016 @ 11:15pm

    Look on the bright side this shows exactly which groups are selling out their fellow citizens for cash incentives.

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


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