from the I-let-a-cable-giant-do-my-thinking-for-me dept
In a recent blog post, Comcast’s top lobbyist David Cohen proudly proclaimed that Comcast has been seeing a “wide variety” of support for the company’s $45 billion takeover of Time Warner Cable. Though most people worry that an even larger Comcast means more usage caps, greater anti-competitive leverage in content negotiations, less media diversity and worse customer service than ever before, Cohen crowed that 70 mayors, 80 chambers of commerce and business organizations and over 60 other state and local officials think the deal is a wonderful idea.
What Cohen accidentally forgot to mention is that in most instances, that support is paid for and, quite frankly, entirely phony. The Verge this week did a nice job using public records requests to highlight how Comcast has been busy ghost writing merger support letters for lazy politicians. Said letters, as you’d expect, ignore the company’s abysmal customer service reputation and downright disdain for the American consumer, instead insisting that Comcast is a pillar of the community. Like this gushing missive from Mayor Jere Wood of Roswell, Georgia, which The Verge notes was actually written by a Comcast VP of External Affairs:
“When Comcast makes a promise to act, it is comforting to know that they will always follow through,” Wood’s letter explained. “This is the type of attitude that makes Roswell proud to be involved with such a company,” the letter asserts, “our residents are happy with the services it has provided and continues to provide each day.”
Of course, this is something happening in every industry, every day, though Comcast’s behavior is getting extra attention of late because the company’s extreme unpopularity has become a hit magnet for many technology blogs (kind of the reverse Apple effect). When asked about the practice, Comcast would only state that it’s not that big of a deal because the recipients of these letters have the choice to edit them or not use them at all:
“In response to a list of questions from The Verge, Comcast emphasized that it did not have final say in the substance of the letters. “We reached out to policy makers, community leaders, business groups and others across the country to detail the public interest benefits of our transaction with Time Warner Cable,” Sena Fitzmaurice, a Comcast spokesperson, said in an email. “When such leaders indicate they?d like to support our transaction in public filings, we?ve provided them with information on the transaction. All filings are ultimately decided upon by the filers, not Comcast.”
In other words, throwing campaign contributions at politicians and doing the thinking for them isn’t a big deal because it’s up to those specific politicians not to be used in such a fashion. Everyone feel better about the state of the union?
Comcast probably should tread carefully if it values the deal it has spent the last year pitching. When AT&T was trying to acquire T-Mobile, we noted how the company went completely off the rails when it came to using astroturf and other farmed support to try and convince regulators that eliminating T-Mobile would somehow create jobs and increase competition. Regulators found themselves so awash in bogus enthusiasm and phony math that it actually contributed to a rejection of the deal. AT&T executives of course learned nothing from the experience and kept lying after the fact.
Both mergers highlight how giant telecom companies like AT&T, Verizon and Comcast have been so pampered by government for so long, they know the rules (of logic or otherwise) simply do not apply to them. As such they’ve been writing not only letters but law for corrupt state legislatures for more than a generation, and have seen absolutely no repercussions for decades of distortions and outright falsehoods. Thanks to the recent rise in digital activism, the press and public have started paying closer attention to telecom issues, though companies like AT&T and Comcast have pretty clearly failed to notice.