Comcast CEO Brian Roberts and NBC President Jeff Zucker testified in front of House and Senate subcommittees Thursday as regulators decide whether to allow the proposed merger of the two media giants. Comcast is the largest cable TV and residential high-speed Internet company in the nation. NBC is one of the largest content providers.
The House hearing opened with several politicians waxing poetic about how the merger is great for America. While nobody in the room cracked a smile, their enthusiasm is laughable. The only people who could believe that the largest media merger in a generation is good for the public are either: 1) on the receiving end of the massive campaign contributions from said media companies; 2) bending to the phalanx of industry lobbyists swarming Capitol Hill; or 3) hoodwinked believers in the "all regulation is bad" approach that brought us Enron and the financial meltdown.
Not everyone is swallowing the snake oil Comcast is peddling to grease its takeover of NBC. None shone brighter yesterday than Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), who aggressively interrogated Comcast CEO Brian Roberts and NBC Universal President Jeff Zucker -- all but accusing them of lying to his face.
"You'll have to excuse me if I don't trust these promises, and that is from experience in this business," Franken said. "It matters who runs our media companies....the media are our source of entertainment, but they're also the way we get our information about the world. So when the same company produces the programs and runs the pipes that bring us those programs, we have a reason to be nervous."
We sure do. Here are 10 more reasons to be very afraid of the proposed Comcast/NBC merger:
1) Comcast Buys Influence
The communications industry is, after all, second only to Big Pharma in Washington influence-peddling. Comcast spent more than $5.5 million in campaign contributions since 2006 alone to have their way in Washington. That's not counting more than $50 million they've spent on lobbying in the past three years!
2) How Much Is Enough?
Comcast earned more than $3.6 billion in profits in 2009 while claiming they didn't have enough money to invest in faster Internet networks ... and while raising rates as much as 50 percent over the past five years in some markets.
3) Fat Cat CEO
In 2008, CEO Brian Roberts was ranked as one of five "Highest Paid Worst Performers" in America. 2008 income: $40.8 million. Sitting on Capitol Hill yesterday, he raked in more than $100,000.
4) Bad Customer Service
Comcast ranked second only to AOL in poor customer service, according to a 2009 Zogby/MSM Money poll. Comcast service is so bad they drove a 75-year-old woman named Mona Shaw to wreck one of their stores with a hammer.
5) Comcast Lies and Plays Dirty
In official 2006 testimony, Comcast Vice President David L. Cohen said: "If Comcast were to try to 'deny, delay, or degrade' the Internet experience that our more than 9 million cable Internet customers have paid for, how can we possibly expect to keep them as customers. ... Any provider that does not meet the needs of users will suffer from a serious backlash from consumers and policymakers."
In 2008, after being caught illegally blocking content Cohen admitted: "Comcast may on a limited basis temporarily delay certain P2P traffic." That's the same year Comcast was caught paying for seat fillers at a public FCC hearing into their illegal Internet blocking. Only this year, after being censured by the FCC, did Roberts admit to the company's "mistake."
6) Comcast Censors Political Speech
Comcast prevents ads from running that criticize the company's political friends. They even fired a newscaster who dared to question an award they were bestowing on Bill O'Reilly.
7) Comcast Blocks Independent Voices
Despite digging up our city streets and enjoying a near-monopoly for decades, Comcast has consistently tried to shirk its community responsibilities - including trying to kick public, educational and government channels into the cable-tier equivalent of Siberia.
8) Goodbye Free Online Video
If this takeover goes through, Comcast will likely pull free NBC content from sites like Hulu and put them behind a "paywall." In Thursday's congressional testimony, Comcast CEO Brian Roberts claimed he wouldn't, but he left wiggle room for his "TV Everywhere" scheme that would force you to pay for a cable subscription to watch your favorite Comcast- and NBC-owned shows online.
9) Launching a Merger Wave
Think this deal stinks? Just wait. If approved, a Comcast/NBC deal would set off a wave of mega-deals as other companies try to keep up. If this deal goes through, you can be sure Verizon-Disney or AT&T-Viacom won't be far behind.
10) Comcast Can't Be Trusted
It's clear Comcast will say and do anything to sell this deal and try to keep Congress and the federal regulators from getting involved to safeguard the public interest. The spin cycle is already starting.
So I'll give the last word to Senator Franken: "I worked for NBC for many years, and what I know from my previous career has given me reason to be concerned--let me rephrase that, very concerned--about the potential merger of Comcast and NBC Universal........so while I commend NBCU and Comcast for making voluntary commitments as part of this merger, you'll have to excuse me if I don't just trust their promises."
Senator Franken's Opening Statement:
Senator Franken's Full Q & A: