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Al Franken Discusses Why He's Against The Comcast Takeover

Sen. Al Franken doesn't grab the mic often, but when he does, it's an issue to which we should pay attention.
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(h/t House of Roberts)

We've said it over and over: He who controls the information, controls the debate.

Which is why we all should be so concerned about how positively members of Congress are approaching the Comcast/Time Warner merger.

Yes, you might not be able to get decent cable service or a good Wi-Fi signal but when it comes to Congress, Comcast is quite the attentive suitor. As Politico reported last month, including those up for reelection this year, “… money from Comcast’s political action committee has flowed to all but three members of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Checks have landed in the campaign coffers of Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Mike Lee (R-UT), who oversee the chamber’s antitrust panel.

Meanwhile, the cable giant has donated in some way to 32 of the 39 members of the House Judiciary Committee, which is planning a hearing of its own. And Comcast has canvassed the two congressional panels that chiefly regulate cable, broadband and other telecom issues, donating to practically every lawmaker there — including Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR) and Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV).

Comcast stresses its donations are a function of its business. “Comcast NBCUniversal operates in 39 states and has 130,000 employees across the country,” said spokeswoman Sena Fitzmaurice. “It is important for our customers, our employees and our shareholders that we participate in the political process. The majority of our PAC contributions are to the senators and members who represent our employees and customers.”

Clearly, Comcast is paying for the premium package. Its money was donated before the proposed big deal with Time Warner, but its “proactive giving,” as Sunlight’s executive director Ellen Miller calls it, “so that when a corporation needs access in a time of trouble, investigation or oversight, they have already built the quote-unquote relationships they need to soften or make their arguments to a sympathetic audience… It’s a long-term investment they make.”


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Al Franken has been a recipient of Comcast and Time Warner's largesse as well, but he's a little less taken with the prospects. Franken wrote an op-ed for CNN.com and appeared on the channel's Reliable Sources to talk about the dangers of further media consolidation:

Essentially, if you want both TV service and high-speed Internet, you are stuck with a big cable and broadband company like Comcast or Time Warner Cable -- "or" being the appropriate preposition here, because, as Comcast brags, many Americans already have just one of these companies to choose from where they live. And if this deal goes through, Comcast will become the only option for millions more consumers.

The danger in allowing Comcast to accrue even more power is not purely hypothetical. The company is already using its dominant position to dictate terms to content providers seeking to reach its 20 million customers.

Take Netflix, for example. Comcast, which happens to have a rival video streaming service of its own, was able to exploit Netflix's growing popularity by refusing to provide the network infrastructure needed to keep Netflix streaming smoothly. In the end, Netflix had to pay Comcast an undisclosed amount of money to get direct access to Comcast's broadband network and alleviate the slowdown.

As Netflix CEO Reed Hastings wrote, "Some big ISPs are extracting a toll because they can -- they effectively control access to millions of consumers and are willing to sacrifice the interests of their own customers to press Netflix and others to pay."

"Extracting a toll" is a polite way of putting it; this is nothing short of extortion. And acquiring Time Warner Cable would give Comcast millions more customers to use as leverage.

If Comcast is able to effectively charge popular providers extra for access to broadband customers, those costs will inevitably be passed on to consumers themselves. And if Comcast is able to determine what traffic can make it into consumers' homes, content not owned by Comcast could become harder to find online.

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