Jan 18, 2011
Today, the Federal Communications Commission blessed
the merger of Comcast, the nation's largest cable and residential
Internet provider, with NBC-Universal. The Justice Department is
expected to follow suit right away, removing the last obstacle to the
unprecedented consolidation of media and Internet power in the hands of
You should be afraid and mad as hell.
The new Comcast will control an obscene number of media outlets,
including the NBC broadcast network, numerous cable channels, two dozen
local NBC and Telemundo stations, movie studios, online video portals,
and the physical network that distributes that media content to millions
of Americans through Internet and cable connections.
Culmination of the deal, combined with the FCC's recent,
loophole-ridden "Net Neutrality" rules, sets the table for Comcast to
turn the Internet into cable television, where it has the ability to
speed up its content, slow down or block its competitors such as
Netflix, and hike the rates for its programming and services. We'll all
end up paying more -- whether you're a Comcast subscriber or not.
More Broken Promises
The merger further squeezes what's left of independent, diverse
voices from the television dial, laying waste to President Barack
Obama's promise to reign in runaway media consolidation. As a candidate
in June 2008, he said:
"I strongly favor diversity of
ownership of outlets and protection against the excessive concentration
of power in the hands of any one corporation, interest or small group. I
strongly believe that all citizens should be able to receive
information from the broadest range of sources."
Where's that Barack Obama today? He's on the editorial page of the
Wall Street Journal announcing an executive order that will "make sure
we avoid excessive, inconsistent and redundant regulation," focusing on
rules that "stifle job creation and make our economy less competitive."
Given the president's long list of massive compromises to corporate
lobbyists during his first two years, today's gesture to Wall Street is
This is the same Obama who promised to "take a backseat to no one" on
Net Neutrality before applauding the FCC's AT&T-approved Internet
rule. It's the same Obama who promised to provide the public option on
health care and to end the massive bonuses to Wall Street titans...the
list of broken promises is far longer than space allows.
And it's the same Obama who, in the same 2008 interview about media consolidation, said,
is a clear need in this country for the reinvigoration of antitrust
enforcement. ... to step up review of merger activity and take effective
action to stop or restructure those mergers that are likely to harm
So much for that one, too.
President Obama is being squeezed by a corrupt Washington that is run
by industry lobbyists, fake grassroots groups, massive political
spending and PR machines that make the most basic public interest
protections impossible to advance. But rather than tell that story, dig
in, and fight like a true leader would, Obama has chosen to hire
corporate-friendly advisors, compromise on the most crucial substance,
and attempt to eke out weak, symbolic, half-victories gift-wrapped in
flowery oratory and spin. It's a losing strategy that has become
Opening Pandora's Box
Why should you care about a business deal between a couple of companies?
This merger will touch all corners of the media market, and you won't
be immune. Comcast will jack up the prices that other cable and online
distributers pay for NBC content, and those prices will be passed to
you. That means higher cable and Internet bills, even if you don't
subscribe to Comcast.
Comcast and the FCC Chairman argue that there are "conditions"
applied to the merger that protect the public, but they fail to mention
that the key provisions are either voluntary (no, that's not a typo), or
expire after a few years. Then, all bets are off, as the merger
squeezes out what's left of independent, diverse voices from television
dials, and forever changes the Internet as we know it.
As television, radio, phone and other services become Internet-based,
cable internet service is becoming the only connection that's fast
enough to handle streaming video and cutting-edge applications. That
means you're stuck with whatever Comcast and their cable buddies dish
out. And thanks to Obama FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, it's gonna be
some nasty gruel.
While pushing through this deal, the FCC chair completely ignored the
lack of competition in the Internet service provider market. As former
Obama White House technology adviser Susan Crawford writes,
"In 2011, as the telcos continue to sink, we're going to need to
confront this natural monopoly problem head-on. How do we ensure a
nationwide, affordable, better-than-all-the-competition high-speed
And it will only be a matter of time before more companies follow
Comcast's lead and start pursuing new mergers. The FCC's blessing of
Comcast and NBC will embolden companies like AT&T or Verizon, to try
to gobble up content providers such as Disney and CBS, creating a new
era of media consolidation where even fewer companies control the
content you watch and all the ways you want to watch it.
If I sound a little bitter, it's because the Comcast-NBC merger is
truly a disaster for anyone who hopes the American public might someday
emerge from the propaganda morass that is embodied by cable television,
and now threatens to consume the internet.
Our democracy is certain to fail if we cannot figure out a way to
foster media that is less sensational and superficial, and more
thoughtful and informative. That's a goal that is antithetical to the
programming you can expect from a merged Comcast/NBC, where profit
pressures and blind corporate ideology will ensure substandard fare.
In the credit-where-it's due category, Democratic FCC Commissioner
and public interest stalwart Michael Copps is expected to vote against
the merger in a demonstration of principle that is all too rare in
Washington. My hat is off to you, Commissioner.
But you, Mr. Obama. You said you "strongly believe that all citizens
should be able to receive information from the broadest range of
sources," yet your agencies are approving this deal while you watch
quietly, and use the merger to demonstrate your corporate street cred.
Does the strength of your beliefs mean nothing? If so, keep doing
what you're doing, and watch your administration fall ever farther out
of favor with real people across the country, both left and right.
Today, you can chalk up another victory for the K Street lobbyists
whose approval you seek, and another crushing defeat for the American
people whose interests you are supposed to protect.
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