Thursday, August 28, 2014

Comcast Could Become The Internet's Gatekeeper



Sixty-five consumer, social justice, and media reform organizations on August 25th 2014  released an open letter urging the FCC  to reject the proposed merger between Comcast and Time Warner Cable. The organizations opposing the merger says  it would “inevitably lead to unprecedented gatekeeper control over our nation’s telecommunications and media landscape.”

 The letter was timed for the final day of the FCC’s public comment period, which concluded Monday August 25th 2104  at midnight.

The organizations are among  growing numbers of people across the United States who vocally oppose the merger.

Announced in February, Comcast’s proposed $70 billion merger (including $45 billion in equity and $25 billion worth of debt) with its largest cable competitor (Time Warner)  would give Comcast control over high-speed internet access for nearly 40 percent of U.S. consumers and two-thirds of the cable market.

The letter—signed by organizations including the Media Mobilizing ProjectCenter for Media JusticeColor of Change, and Center for Rural Strategies—warns that the pact “would allow Comcast to use its increased market power, and increased control over millions more customers, to dictate terms to broadband content providers and increase its leverage over cable programmers.”

Put plainly - a lot of cable subscribers could find themselves at the mercy of Comcast  when it comes  to the pricing and quality of their cable / Internet services.  According to the letter, Comcast has already found numerous ways to leverage its “market power to hike consumer prices” and “charge new tolls for Internet content and create special exemptions for its own video services.
The letter suggest  the merger would further erode media localism, diversity, and democracy:

At the state level, firms like Comcast have lobbied for “State Franchising” bills that have stripped municipalities of the power to negotiate franchise agreements with cable companies. This merger would also further the need for measures promoting diversity in ownership.  The FCC’s most recent statistics found that already low ownership levels for people of color have only gotten worse.  Allowing Comcast to merge with Time Warner Cable would only continue the trend away from the diverse local media our communities need.


Comcast has sought to stroke political and public embracement of the merger  by championing the “Internet Essentials” program it says provides affordable broadband service to low-income communities and presenting itself as a defender of net neutrality.

"We are the only Internet Service Provider to agree to be legally bound by full Net Neutrality rules." - Comcast


 
 This sounds like Comcast is somewhat bound by legalese to maintain equal platforms for all Internet traffic. What Comcast doesn't say is they   were required by regulators to make the above-excerpted agreement as a condition of its acquisition of NBC Universal in 2011.

What Comcast also doesn't openly flaunt  is  its commitment to Net Neutrality3 remains in effect only until January 2018. After that, all bets could be off -- unless the FCC or Justice Department, which also will review the Time Warner Cable deal, makes a stipulation to the contrary.

 The company merged with NBC in 2011 giving it leverage over numerous stations and networks. Meanwhile, Comcast has hired a small army of lobbyists to push through the deal, in what The Hill referred to in May as a “shock and awe” political pressure campaign. But the merger is not the only issue Comcast has fought for. The company has also lobbied aggressively against net neutrality, is a prominent backer of the right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council, and in 2012 even lobbied to defeat a measure in Philadelphia which would have ensured paid sick days for thousands of workers.

The merger must pass two regulatory bodies to go through: the FCC, which will determine whether the deal is in the public good, and the Department of Justice, which will look at issues pertaining to antitrust laws.

Net neutrality, put simply, is the principle that Internet service providers such as Comcast or Time Warner Cable can't discriminate among content providers trying to reach you online -- they can't block websites or services, degrade their signal, slow their traffic or, conversely, provide a better traffic lane for some rather than others. 
In practice, net neutrality has been getting steadily eroded, in part because of the overly indulgent oversight of the FCC. One of the oft-expressed concerns of critics of Comcast's further expansion is the firm would acquire greater ability to profit from the role of online toll keeper. Come 2018 Comcast  could change the entire complexity of the flow of Internet traffic if the company is able to escape the regulatory eye of the FCC



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