In February, Comcast announced its intention to buy Time Warner Cable for $45 billion, which would make it the largest cable TV provider in the country with over 33 million customers. All they need now to corner one third of the TV and satellite market is approval from the FCC. Comcast meets with the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday to defend their proposed megamerger, and by all reports they are feeling pretty confident about their chances.
And why shouldn’t they be? Comcast has been snuggling up to the Democratic Party for years.
Comcast spent nearly $19 million on lobbying efforts last year alone, and the majority of that money went right into the eager pockets of Democrats. The company’s CEO, Brian Roberts, is one of President Obama’s golf buddies, and he donated thousands to Obama’s campaigns and more to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, the Democratic Party of Pennsylvania, the DNC services corporation, and other individual dems. Comcast’s executive vice president, David Cohen, is even more connected with the Democratic Party; he is a former aide of Ed Rendell, a huge fundraiser for Obama, and a frequent visitor of the White House.
Comcast has also dumped more than $33 million into political campaigns since 1989, some $18 million to candidates of the Democratic Party (Obama is their number one recipient). To the surprise of no one, the groups and individuals who received much of the money given by the Comcast Foundation now openly support this merger.
It is most likely that the FCC will approve — but not without a few stringent conditions. According to Marguerite Reardon in an article at CNET, these regulations might include:
- Regulation of peering relationships among Internet providers
- Oversight of how the company bundles video channels as part of its TV packages
- Requirements to sell NBC Universal content to Internet video providers such as Netflix and Amazon.
- Oversight of broadband pricing
Even with these stipulations, my biggest concerns—of which there are many—are scarcely voiced by the media or those on the right. Anyone who has had the great misfortune of being a customer of Comcast should know that decreased competition in the television market will only exacerbate the poor quality of its product and customer service. If that wasn’t bad enough, when this merger is complete, what is to stop Comcast from using their vast control over broadband infrastructure to violate net neutrality principles by blocking or slowing the traffic of online video competitors?
As much as I want to support the right of businesses to combine with whomever they like without regulation, Comcast’s impending union with Time Warner will create an oligopoly that will be bad for consumers. As Michael Copps, former commissioner and acting chairman of the FCC asserts:
“There’s a strong case to be made why this merger shouldn’t be approved…It’s just so much power for one company to amass, and it’s not just cable. They’re a broadband company, they’re a broadcast company, they’re new media, they’re old media, they’re telecom, they’re everything.”
So while I think the existence of the FCC escalates corporate lobbying and political contributions by making political connections nearly a necessity to navigate all the bureaucratic red tape, I am also supporting FCC regulations of this Comcast megamerger. Perhaps this is statist or un-libertarian of me, but a Comcast product unencumbered by any serious market competition is a punishment I wouldn’t wish on anyone.