NBC-Comcast agrees to buy Time Warner Cable for $45 billion - Comcast Corp., the nation's largest cable TV company, agreed to buy No. 2 Time Warner Cable Inc. for about $45.2 billion in stock, or $158.82 per share, the two companies announced Thursday morning.
The proposed merger with Time Warner means Comcast wants to screw you over even more.
Ten Even Worse Things You Donât Know About Comcastâs Proposed Merger With Time Warner
A greedy, arrogant, connected corporation wants a bigger monopoly.
By Steven Rosenfeld - 2/14/2014 - AlterNet
Talk about revenge of the C students! The nationâs biggest telecom company, Comcast, which took over NBCUniversal a year ago, wants to buy the second biggest company, Time-Warner Cable, to create an empire of 30-million subscribers. Thatâs a third of all American homes with cable for its TV, internet service and telephones.
The merger has to be approved by federal regulators as being in the public interest and not a monopoly. How Comcast, the worldâs largest media company and one of Americaâs most reviled companies threads that needle will be a sight to behold. Here are 10 things about its recordâon customer service, profiteering, lobbying and sky-high political connectionsâthat you may not know.
1. Worst Company In America Lists. Itâs bad enough that both Comcast and Time-Warner are regularly cited on âworst companyâ lists and are at the bottom of consumer surveys for subscription television services. Consumerist, which ranked it the third worst company in 2013, has a string of reports describing the numerous ways that Comcast rips off subscribersâoverpromising and underdeliveringâincluding CEO Brian Robertsâs reply last fall blaming his customers for Comcastâs bad reputation, saying that it is noticed only because a giant company like his gets lots and lots of service calls.
2. Local Cable Already Is A Monopoly. As most cable users know, cable companies already are a monopoly. There is no alternative provider offering the mix of TV, internet and phone in most locales. The nationâs business press thinks thatâs fine and has lauded Comcastâsuch as this Forbes articleâfor succeeding âby providing less customer service.â Industry spin like that has lead to a phenomenon rarely seen in online journalism: torrents of incredibly detailed comments describing just how much people despise Comcast and wish there was competition for telecom services.
âComcast is one of the worst companies in this country,â replied Sandi D to that Forbes piece, saying how she spent nine weeks to resolve issues and only got a response after filing a formal complaint with the Better Business Bureau. Another writer, Allawash, was billed for data speeds that Comcastâs equipment wouldnât deliver, telling Forbes, âThey are relying on customerâs lack of knowledge to nickel and dime them.â Commenter Craig Oren said, âHalf of the [customer service] representatives cannot speak English fluently.â Other websites have dozens and dozens of comments following Comcast articles with examples detailing their lousy experiences with the service, tech support and billing.
3. Their Pricing Is Predatory And Will Become Worse. Like big banks, Comcast is always looking for new fees and charges to top off its pricey monthly costâwhich is four times as expensive as Europe. Last November, it announced a new $1.50 âbroadcast TV feeâ would begin in 2014 in addition to the monthly rate, Consumerist reported. âOthers, like AT&T and Charter have similar tack-on fees, but unlike those companies, which have not benefitted in any way from increased retransmission fees charged by broadcasters, Comcast also happens to own NBC,â it said, making the point that Comcast already owns much of the contentâsuch as coverage of the Olympicsâthat itâs charging double for.
What will customers receive for this fee? According to TechDirt.com, more commercials, especially when people are watching reruns of old TV series. âBasically, Comcast wants to flip the current advertising system upsides-down and have older episodes of primetime shows carrying the same commercial load as the most recent episode,â it reported. These are examples of why a deal giving Comcastâalready Americaâs biggest cable company and internet-service providerâmore monopoly power is bad for the public.
4. Comcastâs Contempt for Customers Is More Widespread. Itâs astounding to read what Comcast executives have said about how they treat customers. Matt Strauss, senior vice-president of video services, boasted to The New York Post in December that their on-demand video service system disables fast-forwarding through commercials, which frustrates users but earns Comcast billions more from ad sales. In another example of its greed trumping the video viewersâ experience, The Wall Street Journal reports that it is talking to Netflix about making its shows available to subscribers, but Comcast wonât give Netflix access to the best-quality video streaming. âNetflix believes the technology is critical,â the Journal reported last October, adding, âNo deal is imminent.â
5. Comcastâs Antics Include Its Broadband Service. Comcast isnât just a TV company. It is a giant internet service provider, as well as phone company for some people. When it comes to the internet, TechDirt reports that Comcast âis still continuing its stealthy push toward capped broadband.â Techdirt is referring to charging people by how much data flows into their homes. The trade journals DSLreports.com said Comcast recently raised prices in âuncompetitiveâ rural media markets in Maine and Georgia. It said, âAugusta locals tell the local media they were surprised to suddenly see they had a 300 GB cap and had to pay $10 for every 50 GB they travel.â Predatory pricing like that is what accounts for its $64.76 in revenues in 2013, with $7.1 billion in net profits.
6. Comcast Blames Users For Its Predatory Pricing. As TechDirt notes, price gouging in media markets where Comcast is the only provider is accompanied by more ridiculous industry spin: Comcast âspokespeople âinformingâ reporters that âmost peopleâ donât use that much data and that sneaking in usage caps is the âfairestâ way to make sure data hogs donât use up all the Internet.â TechDirtâs bottom-line: âItâs just a way to make users pay more for their services.â
7. Comcast says Americans Donât Want Faster Broadband. That explanation for price gouging is the tip of the distorted public relations iceberg that its top executive roll out. A Philadelphia Enquirer op-ed by lobbyist David Cohen touts mediocre broadband speeds by claiming that few people want anything faster. âThe reality is that the United States is leading the way in speed, reach, and accessâand doing so in a vast, rural nation that poses logistical connectivity challenges unlike any other country,â he wrote, ignoring the fact that much of world has far faster and much cheaper internet service. Comcastâs âtriple-playâ monthly packagesâfor TV, internet and phoneâcost from $100 to $200, compared to France, for example, where itâs $40 a month and download speeds are 10 times faster and upload speeds are 20 times faster.
As Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law Professor Susan Crawford detailed in Salon, the broadband service in the U.S.âprovided by Comcast and other telecomsâis far inferior to most of Europe and East Asia. âIn a nutshell, America has a series of regional cable monopolies controlling the pricing and capacity of fixed high-speed Internet access (and every other form of data reaching Americans),â she said.
8. Comcast Also Says People Donât Want Alternatives. In that same Philadelphia Enquirer op-ed, lobbyist Cohen says that Americans donât need what a real competitor, Google Fiber, is offeringâa one-gigabit per second connection via a fiber-optic line. âMost websites canât deliver content as fast as current networks move,â he said, adding, âmost U.S. homes have routers that canât support the speed thatâs already available.â Nowhere in this dig at Googledoes Comcastâs lobbyist suggest that his company would upgrade the gear that itâs put in millions of homes unless user paid more to do it.
âConsumers are demanding faster speeds, though,â TechDirt countered. âWhen someone like Google comes along and offers a gigabit connection for $30/month, itâs delivering what consumers actually want: higher speeds and lower pricesâŠ Comcast frequently throw(s) data caps into the mix, which nullifies the positive effects of a speed boost.â
9. Comcast Wants The Next Big Telecom Monopoly. Comcastâs corporate goal in its pending takeover of Time Warner Cable goes far beyond subscriptions to television and video and todayâs most popular internet uses. They want to stand like sentries at a toll gate that prevent people from crossing and using every emerging broadband-based tool unless they pay its fees. âThe cable companies, with their inherently better bandwidth than phone company DSL lines, are becoming natural monopolies for wired-line internet access except in the few places where other providers have installed fiber lines,â wrote Dan Gillmor in The Guardian. Every era has its highways. In the late 1800s, it was the railroads and telegraph lines. In the mid-20th century, it was telephones, highways and broadcast networks. In the early 21st century, itâs the internet and broadband.
10. Comcast Has Political Friends In The Highest Places. By any objective standard, Comcastâs proposed takeover of Time Warner is not the public interest. But there are real reasons to more than suspect that neither the Federal Communications Commission nor the Department of Justice will veto the deal, citing anti-monopoly legal standards. The companyâs power and influence is enormous. Last year, after the FCC approved the deal acquiring NBC Universal, FCC Commissioner Meredith Baker was hired by Comcast. Top lobbyist Cohen held a fundraiser at his home for President Obama in 2011 netting $1.2 million. And last summer, Obama and other top White House officials, including Attorney General Eric Holderâwho heads the Justice Department that must approve Comcastâs merger with Time Warnerâvacationed at Comcast CEO Brian Robertsâ Marthaâs Vineyard home.
As The New York Post noted, âA source told us the reception was âvery relaxed, with no speeches. People were sitting out on the terrace.â Roberts has reportedly been close to the president for years and endorsed the Affordable Care Act.â
COMCAST-TWC MERGER WORRIES, OUTRAGES CONSUMERS
AP - 2/14/2014
LOS ANGELES (AP) â Comcast and Time Warner Cable regularly rank at the bottom of the pay TV industry when it comes to customer satisfaction. So it didn't take long for customers to vent frustrations online over high prices, spotty service and fears of a monopoly after Comcast announced its $45 billion purchase of Time Warner Cable.
Outrage that these two big cable companies would join hands to form an even more massive entity spurred a cascade of sarcastic tweets and satirical memes: the killer Death Star battle station from "Star Wars," the evil Eye of Sauron from "The Lord of the Rings," and a "South Park" snippet where character Eric Cartman and friends are tormented by cable employees before a logo curiously similar to Time Warner Cable's own.
Consumers weren't buying the assertion of Comcast CEO Brian Roberts that the combination, which will have 30 million TV and Internet subscribers, would be "pro-consumer and pro-competitive."
The two companies are expected to argue to anti-trust regulators that the fact they don't directly compete against each other in many parts of America shows the deal won't reduce competition and therefore should be approved.
But it is that lack of overlap, and lack of choice, which is at the root of customer frustration, according America Customer Satisfaction Index managing director David VanAmburg. Cable companies that purposely don't compete against each other to provide fast Internet or reliable TV service can get away with not fully meeting customer needs in markets where they dominate.
"It's almost subconsciously built into their business model that they don't have to worry so much you're going to leave for a competitor," said VanAmburg. "It's definitely a big factor."
Skepticism about the benefits of the deal to consumers was visible in many of the tweets that surfaced after the takeover announcement.
"I love that we're headed back to the era of the monopoly," tweeted Chris Buecheler. "'Eh, I'm sure it'll work out this time!'"
"A Time Warner/Comcast merger would create a combined customer service department of well over 10 employees," tweeted MrScottFletcher.
"The sale of Time Warner Cable to Comcast will be completed between 8am and 1pm depending on if the CEO is late at another appointment," read a tweet by William Gallahue that made fun of service appointment windows that seem designed to cause inconvenience.
Michael Pinto, a 48-year-old Time Warner Cable customer in Brooklyn, N.Y., said a lot of people in the city are trapped into whatever service happens to run into their building that the landlord allows. He worries that a lot of creativity could be stifled if control of Internet and TV service is consolidated into too few hands.
"I suppose it's good news for shareholders. You get a bigger, growing company with smaller cost structures," said Pinto, a website designer and chief creative officer at Very Memorable Inc. "But I think as a democracy - not just a democracy in politics but in a creative sense - I wonder what new channels are we missing out on?"
Simon Eldridge, a 36-year-old media technology consultant in San Jose, Calif., is concerned about everything from the combined company raising prices to throttling back the streaming speeds of online video companies such as Netflix.
The British native is a Comcast Internet customer, mainly because no other provider in his area will give him the speed he needs to work from home. He pays about $80 a month for a download speed of 50 Megabits per second. He says that's about one-third pricier than in the U.K., where there is more competition.
"This kind of a merger is going to give them a third of the Internet market in the U.S. and they can charge even more," he said.
He's read up about their reputation for poor service, although Comcast has been "pretty decent" to him. Eldridge is hopeful that the companies fulfill pledges they made Thursday to boost Internet speeds and reliability for consumers if the deal is approved.
"Hopefully some good will come out of it rather than the worst side of both," he said.
Comcast to buy Time Warner Cable: Say goodbye to the public interest - Reports are swirling around the media universe that Comcast is prepared to announce, as early as Thursday, a deal to acquire Time Warner Cable for north of $45 billion.
The deal would combine the nation's biggest and second-biggest cable firms. Comcast, already No. 1 in subscribers, would end up with about 30 million video customers, a net gain of 8 million (following a reported commitment to divest 3 million subs). It would put that subscriber base together with its ownership of NBCUniversal -- the network, the film studio and several other cable channels.
Let's get to the bottom line. There's no way this combination can conceivably be in the public interest. The deal is a blunt challenge to the Federal Communications Commission and its new chairman, Tom Wheeler; the question is whether the FCC will fold against the economic and political power of these two behemoths.
As the leading provider of Internet services to American homes, Comcast has already shown that it's not above using its effective near-monopoly on Internet connectivity in its service area to stifle competitors. The FCC slapped its wrist after it was caught engaging in this illicit behavior in 2007, but then inexplicably waved through Comcast's acquisition of NBCUniversal in 2011.
The acquisition of Time Warner Cable will simply expand the geographical area subject to its ruthless competitive practices. (Comcast is committed to adhering to standards of net neutrality, which forbid its discriminating among Web services in carrying them to subscribers' homes, until January 2018. That was a condition of the NBCUniversal deal, but after that date the shackles are off.)
Comcast's acquisition of NBCUniversal was a deal that the FCC should never have approved. Here's what we wrote about it in 2011:
"Neither Comcast nor NBC needs this merger for its survival. It won't improve cable TV or Internet technology. It won't by itself lead to more innovative or even more popular television programming. It won't result in more efficient entertainment production.
"In fact, by concentrating economic power in fewer hands, it may lead to less of all that."
Nothing that's happened since the merger has contradicted those predictions.
In fact, since then the threat to a free and open Internet from the concentration of economic power over online services has increased. A federal appeals court ruling last month threw out the FCC's rules protecting the open Internet (on the urging of Verizon, which is Comcast's counterpart as an excessively powerful player in the wireless sphere).
As we wrote at the time, the court ruling made clear that the FCC has all the authority it needs to protect net neutrality, if it only goes about it the right way, but Wheeler has yet to tip his hand about whether, or how, he will do that.
Wheeler spoke publicly just three days ago about "the primacy of 'competition, competition, competition,'" in safeguarding the public interest: "Our competition policy will take the 'see-saw' approach," he told a high-tech conference in Boulder, Colo. "When competition is high, regulation can be low; when competition is low, we are willing to act in the public interest."
The Comcast-Time Warner deal manifestly would be disastrous for the competitive landscape Wheeler says is his paramount goal. The principles he articulated dictate that he and his fellow FCC commissioners must block it. Will he stick to his guns?
Revolving Door: Top Obama Admin Antitrust Officials Tied To Comcast - The news that cable and news giant Comcast has struck a deal to purchase Time Warner, another large cable business, has raised concerns over market concentration. Observers note that the combined company, even if it divests some holdings, would create monopoly-like conditions for the industry.
Many are predicting a lobbying blitz by both companies to pressure governments officials to accept the deal. When Comcast purchased NBC Universal, lobbyists were hired to ensure the merger went through. Critics charge that the payments went beyond the traditional influence industry: after signing off on the Comcast-NBC deal, FCC Commissioner Meredith Attwell Baker was hired by Comcast for an undisclosed amount.
Could the revolving door shape the antitrust enforcement for the proposed merger between Comcast and Time Warner? Republic Report looked into the officials responsible for overseeing antitrust enforcement, and found that at least two have close ties to Comcast.
The recently installed head of the Department of Justice Antitrust Division, William Baer, was a lawyer representing GE and NBC in their push for the merger with Comcast. At the time, Baer was an attorney with the firm Arnold & Porter. To his credit, Baer said last month that he is skeptical of further consolidation of the cable market. Disclosures reviewed by Republic Report show that Baer will continue receiving payments from Arnold & Porter for the next eleven years as part of his retirement package.
Maureen Ohlhausen, one of four commissioners on the Federal Trade Commission, which oversees antitrust enforcement, provided legal counsel for Comcast as an attorney just before joining the FTC. She also represented NBC Universal in the year before before becoming a commissioner in April of 2012. NBC Universal completed its merger with Comcast in January of 2011.
Still, several officials have signaled that they may reject the Comcast-Time Warner deal. FTC Commissioner Ajit Pai told the Wall Street Journal that the merger could face âa number of hurdles in the Obama administration.â
Comcast and Time Warner are major players in both political parties.
Comcast takeover of Time Warner Cable 'will throttle choice on the web' -
Angry consumer groups say proposed $45.2bn mega-deal will drive up costs for millions â and call on FCC to block takeover
Dominic Rushe - 02-12-2014 - TheGuardian.com
Consumer groups reacted angrily to the merger of cable giant Comcast and Time Warner Cable on Thursday, claiming the combination could âthrottleâ choice on the internet.
Comcastâs proposed $45.2bn takeover of TWC will create a media behemoth that will dominate broadband internet access across the US. Comcast, which owns NBC Universal, will also cement its position as the pre-eminent force in cable TV.
Jodie Griffin, senior staff attorney at consumer rights group Public Knowledge said: âThis is a deal that needs to be blocked.â She said Comcast was likely to use the extra leverage to âdrive up costs and reduce choices for consumers.â, and claimed the new company would be too powerful, becoming a âgatekeeperâ capable of âthrottling competition.â
Comcast, Americaâs largest cable company, took over NBC Universal in 2011 and was given a long list of conditions by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Among them was a commitment to net neutrality â a ban on internet service providers from favouring affiliated content or blocking or slowing web content sent to homes and businesses. At present, Comcast is bound to abide by net neutrality rules until the end of 2017.
Netflix CEO Reed Hastings has attacked Comcast, accusing the cable firm of capping data it provides to streaming companies like his own in order to favour Comcastâs own Xfinity video-on-demand app. Recent studies show that Comcast users receive their Netflix media at significantly slower speeds than those using other internet service providers.
Griffin said there were other examples where Comcast had failed to live up the pledges it had made or was pushing hard at the limits of the rules. She cited Comcastâs dispute with Bloomberg Television. Bloomberg clashed with Comcast after the cable firm refused to put its business news channel alongside its own affiliated news stations â including rival finance channel CNBC and MSNBC â in its cable lineup. The FCC ruled last year that the refusal to âneighbourhoodâ Bloombergâs channel close to its rivals contravened the conditions of its NBC merger.
âIn our experience, allowing this merger to go through with added conditions is not a workable solution,â said Griffin.
Craig Aaron, president of internet rights lobby group Free Press, said that while the immediate effects of the merger were likely to be price rises and less competition, the long-term consequences could be even more serious.
Alongside Netflix, Comcast has been criticised for slowing usersâ broadband connections by the lobby group Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and by file-sharing and copyright website TorrentFreak for interfering with legal file-sharing on the web.
âThis is a company that has already been caught blocking internet traffic,â said Aaron. âBut itâs clear their long-term plan is to take a free and open internet and turn it into something like cable TV, where they pick the channels and they speed them up and slow them down based on who pays them the most.â
âIf you hate your cable guy now, you are going to hate your cable guy on steroids,â said Aaron.
EFF attorney Mitch Stoltz called the merger âdangerousâ.
âOne company will effectively control the only data pipe going into a near majority of American homes, whether thatâs internet TV or phones,â Stoltz said. âIf that company gets to play favourites âŠ thatâs dangerous.â
Stoltz said the companies might not compete directly, but that their combined marketing and purchasing power would give them unprecedented clout over programming whether it was delivered to TVs or to the internet. âAt this point that is largely an irrelevance,â he said.
The two firms have begun what looks set to be an expensive and protracted lobbying effort to sell the consumer benefits of the deal.
On a conference call with journalists Thursday, Brian Roberts, the chairman and CEO of Comcast, and Robert Marcus, the chairman and CEO of TWC, argued the deal was a âpro-consumerâ. They said the two firms did not directly compete geographically and would sell off the small areas where they do.
âIf there is a benefit of a national scale of being able to grow in the future with capabilities that are expensive and untested that require a national presence, we are able to do that,â said Roberts.
Marcus said: âFirst of all, the broadband market today is more competitive than you give it credit for. But most importantly, by combining Time Warner and Comcast in cable, we are not removing a competitor from any consumer. We are not removing a choice from any consumer.â