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This moving billboard accompanied a protest at a Comcast shareholders meeting in Philadelphia on May 21, 2014. (Photo courtesy of Media Mobilizing Project)

Comcast Assembles Massive Lobbyist Army to Push Mega-Merger

Media justice advocates say deal would erode democracy, free speech, and access to vital services

Sarah Lazare

Internet and cable giant Comcast has assembled an army of lobbyists to drive through its proposed merger with its second largest cable competitor—Time Warner Cable. But media justice campaigners across the U.S. are determined to stop a deal they say would strike a blow against free speech, media diversity, and access to vital services.

"The grassroots resistance that is rising is formidable," Hannah Sassaman, policy director for Media Mobilizing Project, told Common Dreams. "Every day more people understand that their access to communicate is an essential function to sustain a dignified life."

Already one of the biggest lobbying forces in Washington, Comcast has added seven firms to its already hefty squadron since announcing a proposed merger that would give them control over high-speed internet access for nearly 40 percent of U.S. consumers and two-thirds of the cable market. In a story published Thursday, The Hill called this a "campaign of shock and awe" that will give the corporation "one of the biggest lobbying teams ever seen in Washington."

This amounts to over 100 lobbyists on Comcast's doll, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics. Several lobbying heavyweights are numbered among this team, including former government staffers, who have direct lines to the political officials and committees reviewing the merger deal.

Last year, Comcast spent nearly $20 million on lobbying, the second highest amount spent by a single company next to military contractor Northrop Grumman Corporation.

"Comcast has shown they will leave no stone unturned to get their way," Todd O'Boyle of Common Cause told Common Dreams.

"We've seen this in the past, when Comcast purchased NBC we saw their lobbying muscle really come out in that battle," Mary Alice Crim of Free Press told Common Dreams. "They've spent so much money getting their tentacles into Washington and extending out across country. They are really investing in that for the long haul to make sure they are ready for deals that come up."

These expensive lobbying efforts are in addition to the large price of the proposed merger, which would total over $70 billion, including $45 billion in equity and $25 billion worth of debt. According to S. Derek Turner writing for Free Press, "[F]or $70 billion, Comcast could deploy gigabit fiber past every single non-rural home in the U.S." Fiber, which provides fast internet speeds, is used across Europe.

Yet, Comcast's social impact extends beyond this one merger. Since 2005, Comcast has been a top spender on lobbying efforts to kill net neutrality, which could create a fast lane for big companies and slow down traffic for less resourced content producers. The corporation is also a backer of the right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council, which has pushed for deregulation of the telecommunications industry, along with a host of other measures, along with anti-union, anti-public school, prison privatization, anti-immigrant rights, stand your ground laws, and other legislation.

Comcast, furthermore, throws into local politics across the U.S., including in its home town of Philadelphia, where it spent over $100,000 in 2012 to defeat a measure that would have protected paid sick time for thousands of workers.

Despite the deep pockets and influence of Comcast, people are committed to fighting back.

More than 400,000 signed a petition rejecting the merger, and Wednesday the signatures were delivered to a Comcast shareholders meeting in Philadelphia amid a lively protest. Earlier this year, MMP launched the CAP Comcast! Campaign aimed at holding the corporation accountable in Philadelphia as it renegotiates its franchise to sell services.

"When I talk to people around the country, I hear concern that if the deal goes through Comcast will have the power to reshape the future of the internet," said Crim. "We will be in touch with the Federal Communications Commission, the Department of Justice, Congress, and Comcast to make sure they know the public will not be served by this deal."

According to Sassaman, "People in the United States are increasingly aware every day that access to affordable universal internet, the ability to speak at the same speed with the same chance of being heard as anyone else, and the ability to tell their stories in their own words is utterly essential in everyday people's lives."

Sassaman added, "This is causing hundreds of thousands, and increasingly millions, of people to work to stop the merger, save net neutrality, and start to build real alternative networks."

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