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!