A (rather misleading) message from Comcast on net neutrality
Say this for Politico and the daily Playbook emails it blasts out to a large circle of Washington opinion makers and their ilk: They make it easy to keep track of the latest lobbying balderdash put out by big corporations. That’s because the lobbying messages show up as advertising messages in the Playbook emails.
In the past, we’ve highlighted a campaign of disinformation sponsored by BP in connection with its responsibility for the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. Now let’s take a look at Comcast.
The big cable company, which is trying to persuade the Federal Communications Commission to approve its merger with Time Warner Cable, has been the Playbook email sponsor this week. On Monday and Tuesday, its message included the following assertion:
"[W]e are the only Internet Service Provider to agree to be legally bound by full Net Neutrality rules.” (See accompanying graphic.) The company also incorporates this statement in its corporate publicity about the proposed merger.
As a straight factual statement, this is correct as far as it goes. But it doesn’t go nearly far enough to qualify as the whole truth.
What Comcast doesn’t say is that it was required by regulators to make that agreement as a condition of its acquisition of NBCUniversal in 2011.
What Comcast also doesn’t say is that its commitment remains in effect only until January 2018. After that, the shackles are off -- unless the FCC or Justice Department, which also will review the Time Warner Cable deal, make its extension a condition of their approval.
It would appear that Comcast’s intention is to align itself (at least for the moment) with the pro-net neutrality position held by many organizations and consumer advocates likely to line up in opposition to the Time Warner Cable deal.
Net neutrality, put simply, is the principle that Internet service providers such as Comcast or Time Warner Cable can’t discriminate among content providers trying to reach you online -- they can’t block websites or services, degrade their signal, slow their traffic or, conversely, provide a better traffic lane for some rather than others.
In practice, net neutrality has been getting steadily eroded, in part because of the overly indulgent oversight of the FCC. One of the oft-expressed concerns of critics of Comcast’s further expansion is the firm would acquire greater ability to profit from the role of online tollkeeper. A rule that prevents it from playing that role only until 2018 is cold comfort indeed.
It’s proper to revisit Comcast’s troubling record on this score. As we reported in February, it’s “a record of broken commitments to customers and regulators, and of corporate deception.”
In 2007, for example, Comcast was caught deliberately interfering with its customers’ legal traffic on peer-to-peer services such as BitTorrent.
The FCC also found in 2012 that Comcast hadn’t fully lived up to all the commitments it made to secure approval of the NBCUniversal deal.
That’s worth pondering when it trumpets its commitment to net neutrality, as it’s been doing this week. If Comcast is allowed to accumulate even more power through the acquisition of Time Warner Cable, will its legal commitments be worth the paper they’re printed on?
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