"We vote no!"
That was the call of demonstrators outside of a Comcast shareholders meeting in Philadelphia on Wednesday as they voiced objection to the internet and cable giant's proposed merger with its largest competitor, Time Warner Cable.
"The people reject the proposed merger because it would have a disastrous impact on consumers. It undermines free speech and democracy by limiting the flow of information, puttingmuch of our vital communication needs into the hands of one giant media monopoly," Jeff Rousset, organizer with the Media Mobilizing Project, told Common Dreams.
Carrying signs and banners, the crowd chanted, "Stop raising rates, protect our right to communicate!" Organized by Media Mobilizing Project, Common Cause, Free Press, Media Action Grassroots Network, and Consumers Union, the demonstrators delivered petition signatures of more than 400,000 people who oppose the merger.
Announced in February, Comcast's proposed $45 billion merger would give the company control over high-speed internet access for nearly 40 percent of U.S. consumers and two-thirds of the cable market. This is in addition to the company's 2011 merger with NBC, which gave it control over numerous stations and networks, and according to critics, an incentive to hedge competitors out of the market.
Media justice advocates warn the deal would erode choice, increase costs, slash media diversity, and further cut-off under-served communities from vital services.
"We are living in a media environment that is heavily consolidated," Steven Renderos, national organizer for the Media Action Grassroots Network, told Common Dreams. "People of color make up 36 percent of the U.S. population, but we own less than 7 percent of radio and TV stations in the country. Access to our own infrastructure to shape our own stories to produce our own media is not happening in our communities. This merger would continue that marginalization."
Local residents say Comcast's harmful practices are exemplified right in its hometown of Philadelphia—where it owns the tallest building in the skyline. Participants chanted, "Comcast has the tower, but the people have the power!"
“Comcast’s service in Philadelphia is a great reason why they should not be allowed to expand,” said Bryan Mercer, co-executive director of the Media Mobilizing Project. “If they merged with Time Warner Cable, their high prices, bad record of service to low income communities, and outsized political power would expand even more.”
For under-served residents in this city, being priced out of Comcast's services is a barrier to applying for jobs, being a student, and a host of other vital activities.
According to Rousset, the company's Internet Essentials program, which has been championed as providing affordable Internet access for poor people, has "failed miserably" nationwide. ”It was used as a bargaining chip to gain approval for Comcast's merger with NBC, but it's contributed more to the company's profits than to bridging the digital divide," he said. "For those able to overcome the eligibility barriers, the service is so slow that some feel they need to upgrade to a more expensive plan.”
"When Comcast promised working families in Philadelphia that we could get discounted internet services, that should have been a promise we could trust," said Dawn Hawkins of Action United. "But when I applied, Comcast held a ten-plus year old bill against me and kept my family offline."
"You can tell a lot about company based on how they act at home," said Renderos. "In Philadelphia, Comcast lobbied against a fair wage ordinance, and the CEO has been involved in supporting education policies that led to school closures."
As Betty Yu points out in FAIR, Comcast's political influence extends across the United States, including extensive lobbying in favor of its media consolidation and in support of the right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council.
"This is a company that has rigged the system to increase profit at the expense of regular, everyday people," said Renderos. "But today we made our voices heard."
Reports and commentary on the protest are being posted to Twitter: