Sen. Al Franken has penned a letter to the FCC and the Department of Justice accusing the agencies of letting Comcast walk all over them when it comes to the conditions they imposed on the cable company when it purchased NBC-Universal. And the Senator warns the agencies that if Comcast is ready to act first and beg permission later (waaaaaay later since the agencies can’t get their act together) then the FCC should really consider that during the approval process for a new joint venture between Comcast and Verizon.
He lists several examples where the agencies have delayed their response to complaints about Comcast behavior, explains that those complaints are a direct result of Comcast’s growing power as a content owner, a distributor and last mile pipe owner, and then points out that Comcast’s actions are anti-competitive and are exactly what the agencies were trying to prevent when they imposed those conditions. The bulk of the letter concerns disputes on what content Comcast offers to its pay TV subscribers and where certain content is placed in various cable tiers.
However it also brings up the problems we have already laid out with regard to Comcast letting certain providers of its Xfinity service bypass the Comcast bandwidth cap. There is also the matter of Sony’s decision to hold off on offering a streaming video service due to concerns about the inherent advantage Comcast has in delivering its own online video. For details on the conditions Comcast is violating as well as a technical breakdown of why Comcast is basically lying to consumers and regulators when it says the Xbox traffic is different and thus shouldn’t count against the cap, check out this post.
As a a parent, Franken’s letter strikes a familiar chord. Franken is basically telling the agencies that they are allowing their spoiled and ill-behaved child to walk all over them and the innocent bystanders that are consumers, and maybe they shouldn’t give it what it wants this time around because Comcast is likely to hurt consumers again. From the letter:
If your agencies are going to approve large telecommunications and media mergers based in part on the conditions that are imposed on the transaction, the public needs to be assured that your agencies are carefully monitoring and reviewing these transactions to ensure corporations are complying with the obligations you imposed.
Much like you want to applaud the person who steps in front of a rampaging child in a restaurant and tells him or her calmly to sit down and stop screaming, while the child’s’ parents ignore their kid’s behavior and continue their dinner as if Junior weren’t driving other diners crazy. At least in that situation anyone has the power to stand up and stop the errant child, but unfortunately when it comes to Comcast, the number of participants who can shake some sense into the child or the parents are few. Hopefully Franken’s letter has some effect.
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