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Corporate Puppets on Parade: Mercatus Center Writer’s Ridiculous Ranting for Usage Caps Debunked

att string puppetOnce again, a writer from the corporate-funded Mercatus Center is back to shill for the telecom industry.

Eli Dourado landed space in Slate to write a ridiculous defense of Comcast’s expanding trials of usage caps. When we first read it, we assumed a Comcast press release somehow managed to find its way into the original article. It quickly became impossible to discern the difference.

Before we take apart Mr. Dourado’s nonsensical arguments, let’s consider the source.

Sourcewatch calls Mercatus one of the best-funded think tanks in the United States. And why not. Its indefatigable advocacy of pro-corporate policies is legendary. The Center itself was initially funded by the Koch Brothers to advocate against consumer protection and oversight and for deregulation.

With that kind of mission and money, it’s no surprise the authors coming out of Mercatus are in rigid lock-step with the corporate agendas of Comcast, AT&T, and other large telecom companies. The Center is also a friend of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a group that counts Comcast and AT&T as dues-paying members. ALEC’s corporate members ghostwrite legislation that ends up introduced in state legislatures across the country.

We have never seen a Mercatus-affiliated author ever write a piece that runs contrary to the interests of Big Telecom companies. They oppose community broadband competition, Net Neutrality, and have defended wireless mergers that would have killed T-Mobile, turn Time Warner customers into Comcast customers, and believed AT&T’s buyout of DirecTV was just dandy and Charter’s buyout of Time Warner Cable is even more consumer-y.

They favor usage caps/usage pricing, defend higher bills, and laughingly claim Americans are probably underpaying for broadband compared to the rest of the world.

Life must be good on Broadband Fantasy Island, where those in favor of Comcast’s usage pricing experiments live. In a style that eerily resembles a Comcast corporate blog post, Dourado unconvincingly tells readers, “metered data is good for most consumers and for the Internet.”

Dourado’s defense of Comcast’s idea of reasonable pricing only had one slip-up, when he accidentally told the truth. He effectively derailed Comcast’s usual talking point that “it is only fair for heavy users to pay more” when he correctly noted, “broadband networks are composed almost entirely of fixed costs—costs that don’t vary very much with usage.”

two peas

(Image: Jacki Gallagher)

That ripping sound you hear is a corporate executive starting to tear up their contribution check to Mercatus Center for being off message. But hang on, Mr. Corporate Guy, Mercatus Center has always had your back before, let’s see if Dourado can pull his feet out of the fire.

“But when users pay for data use, cable companies have an incentive to make it easier than ever to use a lot of data—that is, to invest in speed upgrades. They want you to blow right by your habitual usage amounts, which you will probably do only if you are on a superfast connection. In this way, metered data encourages broadband network upgrades,” Dourado claims, back on message.

Dourado’s core argument is one we’ve heard from telecom companies for years: heavy users are responsible for the allegedly high fixed costs of delivering broadband to America. Because networks must be built to accommodate all users, those ‘data hogs’ force providers to charge top dollar to everyone to assure access to promised speeds, unfairly penalizing light users like grandma along the way just to satiate someone else’s desire for more downloading.

comcast money pileIf that were true, broadband costs everywhere would be around the same and Frontier’s DSL service wouldn’t be so universally awful. Unfortunately for Dourado’s argument, we have the ability to look at broadband pricing and service quality beyond the monopoly/duopoly marketplace we have in North America. Fixed costs to deliver broadband service here are comparable in western Europe and Asia and somehow they manage to do a lot more for a lot less.

Closer to home, newly emerging competitors like Google Fiber, municipal/community broadband, and private overbuilders like Grande Communications and WOW! also manage to deliver more service for less money, without any need to gouge and abuse their customers. The fact Time Warner Cable, Verizon, Charter and Bright House have seen no need to impose compulsory usage caps or usage pricing (AT&T does not enforce their cap on U-verse service either) and also do business in the same states where Comcast is imposing caps is just the first of many threads that unravel Dourado’s poorly woven argument.

Let’s break Dourado’s other arguments down:

Phillip Dampier

Phillip Dampier

Dourado’s Claim: “Broadband networks are composed almost entirely of fixed costs—costs that don’t vary very much with usage. Cable companies have to spend many billions of dollars to build and maintain their networks whether or not we use them. One way or another, users of the network have to collectively pay those billions of dollars.”

Stop the Cap!: This is true, but Mr. Dourado forgets to mention most of the costs to construct those networks were paid off years ago. DSL and fiber to the neighborhood services avoided incurring the most costly part of network construction — wiring the last mile to the customer’s home. Phone company broadband, excepting Verizon’s complete fiber-to-the-home service network overhaul, benefits from the use of an existing copper-based network built and paid for long ago to deliver basic telephone service.

The cable industry did even better. It used the same fiber-coax network last rebuilt in the early/mid-1990s to deliver more television channels to also deliver broadband, which initially took up about as much space as just one or two TV channels. The cable industry introduced broadband experimentally, spending comparatively little on network upgrades. This was important to help overcome skepticism by corporate executives who initially doubted selling Internet access over cable would ever attract much interest. It shows how much they know.

So while it is true to say the telecommunications industry spent billions to develop their infrastructure, for most it was primarily to sell different services — voice grade telephone service and cable-TV, for which it received a healthy return. Selling broadband turned out to be added gravy. For a service the cable industry spent relatively little to offer, it collected an average of $30 a month in unregulated revenue. That price has since doubled (or more) for many consumers. Cost recovery has never been a problem for companies like Comcast.

In 2014, Techdirt showed broadband investment wasn't increasing at the rate the cable industry claimed. It has been flat, and not because of broadband usage or pricing.

In 2014, Techdirt showed broadband investment wasn’t increasing at the rate the cable industry claimed. It has been largely flat, and not because of broadband usage or pricing.

It is easy for providers to show eye-popping dollar amounts invested in broadband improvements. Most providers routinely quote these numbers to justify just about everything from rate increases to further deregulation. When the numbers alone don’t sufficiently sell their latest argument, they lie about them. Adopting any pro-consumer policy like Net Neutrality or a ban on usage pricing would, in their view, “harm investment.” Only it didn’t and it won’t.

What these same providers never include on those press releases are their revenue numbers. Placed side by side with capital expenses/infrastructure upgrades, the clarity that emerges from showing how much providers are putting in the bank takes the wind right out of their sails. It turns out most providers are already earning a windfall selling unlimited broadband at ever-rising prices, while network upgrade expenses remain largely flat or are in decline. In short, your phone or cable company is earning a growing percentage of their overall profits from the sale of broadband, because they are raising prices while also enjoying an ongoing decline in the cost of providing the service. Despite that, they are now back for more of your money.

Dourado’s basic argument is the same one providers have tried for years — attempting to pit one customer against another over who is responsible for the high cost of Internet access. They prefer to frame the argument as “heavy users” vs. “light users.” Hence, it is isn’t fair to expect grandma to pay for the teen gamer down the street who also enjoys BitTorrent file sharing. Their hope is that the time-tested meme “someone is getting a free ride while you pay for it” will act like shiny keys to distract people from fingering the real perpetrator of high pricing — the same phone and cable companies laughing all the way to the bank.

It’s easy to prove and we’ve done it here at Stop the Cap! since 2008.

bullWe have a BS detector that never fails to uncover the real motivation behind usage pricing. It’s simply this. If a provider is really in favor of usage billing, then let’s have a go at it. But it must be real usage pricing.

Here’s how it works. Just as with your electric utility, you will pay a monthly connection/facilities charge to cover the cost of the transport network and infrastructure, typically $15 or less per month (and it should be less because utilities have to maintain physical meters that cable and phone companies don’t). Next come usage charges, and because the industry seems to have adopted AT&T’s formula, we will use that.

Your broadband will now cost $15 a month for the connection charge and usage pricing will amount to $10 for each 50GB increment of usage. Because even Mr. Dourado admits there is no real cost difference supplying broadband at different speeds, you deserve the maximum. If you turn in average usage numbers, you will have consumed between 50-100GB each month. So your new broadband bill will be $25 if you consume 50 or fewer gigabytes, $35 if you consume between 50-100GB. Deal?

Considering what you are probably paying today for Internet access, you will fully understand that howling sound you hear is coming from telecom company executives screaming in opposition to fair usage pricing. That is why no provider in America is advocating for fair usage pricing. In reality, they want to charge current prices –and– impose an arbitrary usage allowance on you, above which they can begin to collect overlimit penalty fees. It’s just another rate hike.

Dourado is stuck with a bad hand trying to play the second part of the “usage pricing fairness” game. While claiming heavy users should be forced to pay more, he is unable to offer a real example of light users paying substantially less.

bshkAt this point, Dourado’s proverbial pants fall off, exposing the naked reality that few, if any customers actually pay less under usage pricing. That is because providers are terrified of the word “cannibalization.” In the broadband business, it refers to customers examining their options and downgrading their service to a cheaper-priced plan (shudder) that better reflects their actual usage. To make certain this happens rarely, if ever, Comcast offers customers scant savings of $5 from exactly one “Flexible Data Option” available only to those choosing the improbable Economy Plus plan, which offers just 3Mbps service. Customers agree to keep their usage at or below 5GB a month or they risk an overlimit fee of $1 per gigabyte. It’s like Russian Roulette for Bill Shock. Where can we sign up?

In fact, Time Warner Cable has already admitted a similar plan open to all of its broadband customers was a colossal flop, attracting only “a few thousand” customers nationwide out of 15 million qualified to choose it. We suspect the number of Comcast customers signed up to this “money-saving plan” is probably in the hundreds. Time Warner was smart enough to realize forcing customers into a massively unpopular compulsory usage plan would make them a pariah. For Comcast, “pariah” is a matter of “same story, different day.” Alienating customers is their specialty and despite growing customer dissatisfaction, executives have ordered all ahead full on usage pricing.

Dourado also can’t help himself, getting his own cheap shot in at government-mandated Lifeline-like discounts designed to make Internet access more affordable, calling it a “tax and spend program.” He omits the fact Comcast already offers its own affordable Internet plan voluntarily. But mentioning that would further undercut his already weak argument in favor of usage pricing.

Dourado: “If everyone paid equal prices for unlimited data plans, cable company revenues would be limited by the number of people willing to pay that equal rate.”

Stop the Cap!: Providers have already figured out they can charge higher prices for all sorts of things to increase revenue. General rate increases, modem fees, and charging higher prices for faster speeds are also proven ways companies are earning higher revenue from their existing customers.

Dourado: “But when users pay for data use, cable companies have an incentive to make it easier than ever to use a lot of data—that is, to invest in speed upgrades. They want you to blow right by your habitual usage amounts, which you will probably do only if you are on a superfast connection. In this way, metered data encourages broadband network upgrades.”

comcast whoppersStop the Cap!: Nice theory, but companies like Comcast have found an easier way to make money. They simply raise the price of service. Dourado should learn more about the concept of pricing elasticity. Comcast executives know all about it. It allows them, in the absence of significant competition, to raise broadband prices just because they can and not risk significant customer number defections as a result.

After they do that, the next trick in the book is to play games with usage allowances to expose more customers to overlimit fees or force them into more expensive usage plans. In Atlanta, Comcast even sells its own insurance plan to protect customers… from Comcast. For an extra $35 a month, customers can avoid being molested by Comcast’s arbitrary usage allowance and overlimit fees and get unlimited service back. As customers rightfully point out, this means they are paying $35 more a month for the same service they had just a few months earlier, with no improvements whatsoever. Is that innovative pricing or highway robbery?

What inspires companies to raise speeds and treat customers right is competition, something sorely lacking in this country. Just the vaguest threat of a new competitor, such as the arrival of Google Fiber was more than enough incentive for companies to begin investing in waves of speed upgrades, bringing some customers gigabit speeds. Usage pricing played no factor in these upgrades. The fact a new competitor threatened to sell faster Internet at a fair price (without caps) did.

Dourado: “The DOCSIS 3.1 cable modem standard, just now being finalized, will allow downloads over the existing cable network up to 10 Gbps (10 times faster than Google Fiber). Cable companies are now facing a choice as to how fast to roll out support for DOCSIS 3.1. As the theory predicts, Comcast, now experimenting with metering, is planning an aggressive rollout of the new multi-gigabit standard.”

Stop the Cap!: While Dourado celebrates Comcast’s achievements, he ignores the fact EPB Fiber in Chattanooga offers 10Gbps fiber broadband today, charging the same price Comcast wants for only 2Gbps service, and does not charge Comcast’s $1,000 installation and activation fee. EPB did not require the incentive of usage billing or caps to finance its upgrade. Dourado also conveniently ignores the fact almost every cable operator, many with no plans to add compulsory usage caps or usage pricing, are also aggressively moving forward on plans to rollout DOCSIS 3.1. It’s more efficient, allows for the sale of more profitable higher speed Internet tiers, and is cost-effective. Some companies want the right to gouge their customers, others want to do the right thing. Guess where Comcast fits.

Usage Cap Man

Usage Cap Man

Dourado: “It’s not fun to continually calculate how much you are spending. But we all gladly accept metering for water and electricity with no significant mental accounting costs—why should broadband be so different? Both Comcast and Cox make it easy to track usage. And even if we can’t just get over our mental accounting costs, are they really so significant that we should cite them as an excuse for keeping the poor and elderly offline and letting our broadband networks stagnate?”

Stop the Cap!: Assumes facts not in evidence. First, once again Mr. Dourado’s talking points come straight from the cable industry and are fatally flawed. While Dourado talks about usage pricing for water and electricity — resources that come with the added costs of being pumped, treated, or generated, he conveniently ignores the one service most closely related to broadband – the telephone. The costs to transport data, whether it is a phone call or a Netflix movie, have dropped so much, phone companies increasingly offer unlimited local -and- long distance calling plans to their customers. When is the last time anyone bothered to think about calling after 11pm to get the “night/weekend long distance rate?” For years, broadband customers have not had to worry how much a Netflix movie will chew through a broadband usage allowance either. But now they might, because the cable industry understands that Netflix viewer may have cut his cable television package, cutting the revenue the cable company now wants back.

Second, heavy Internet users are not the ones responsible for keeping the poor and elderly offline and allowing broadband infrastructure to stagnate. The blame for that lies squarely in the executive suites at Comcast, AT&T and other telecom companies that make a conscious business decision charging prices that guarantee better returns for their shareholders (and their fat executive salary and bonuses).

But it isn’t all bad news.

Comcast’s Internet Essentials already exists today and is priced at $9.95 a month. Only Comcast’s revenue-cannibalization protection scheme keep it out of the hands of more customers. It limits the program to customers with school age children on the federal student lunch program and is off-limits to existing Comcast broadband customers even if they otherwise qualify. Why? Because if the program was available to everyone, it would quickly cut their profits as customers downgraded their service.

Comcast’s abysmal performance is legendary, and that isn’t a result of heavy users either. That is entirely the fault of a company that puts its own greed ahead of its alienated customers, something plainly clear from forcing captive customers into usage trials they don’t want or need. Verizon FiOS uses technology far superior to what Comcast is using, offers better speeds and better service. Customers are happy and routinely rate FiOS among the nation’s top providers. They don’t need usage pricing or caps to manage this. Comcast sure doesn’t either.

Mr. Dourado’s arguments for usage pricing are so weak and provably false, it is almost embarrassing. But we understood he was given the impossible challenge trying to mount a defense for Comcast’s latest Internet Overcharging scheme. Nobody can defend the indefensible.

Shillplex: FCC Gets Curiously Similar Letters of Support for the Charter/Bright House/TWC Merger

moneymouthIf the Federal Communications Commission weighed comments for and against the merger of Charter-Time Warner Cable-Bright House Networks based on volume, it would likely be a done deal.

A major lobbying effort by the cable companies involved in the transaction has been underway to encourage politicians, business associations, non-profit groups, and programmers to write the FCC asking the deal be approved. Many are responding, including politicians receiving political donations and/or seeking expanded service for their communities, non-profits that depend on financial contributions from one or more of the companies involved, programmers that live or die based on winning carriage agreements with Charter, Bright House, and Time Warner Cable, and other groups with missions that seem miles away from a multi-billion dollar cable merger.

Stop the Cap! examined many of these curious letters of support. What, for instance, might motivate the New York Snowmobile Association to navigate the cumbersome comment filing systems of both the New York Public Service Commission and the Federal Communications Commission to express glowing support for a cable merger?

The International Soap Box Derby is all-in on the merger of Charter-TWC-Bright House.

The International Soap Box Derby is all-in on the merger of Charter-TWC-Bright House.

What made the Maccabi World Union, the largest Jewish sports organization in the world, enthusiastic enough to dwell on a marriage of three cable companies?

How could the Montana Stockgrowers Association set aside their interest in helping state cattle ranchers to deliver safe and wholesome beef to American dinner tables to ponder modem fees in their letter to the Commission?

One Los Angeles non-profit organization contacted by Stop the Cap! shed some light on the subject, if we agreed to keep their name private.

“Like many non-profits, when Time Warner Cable makes a financial contribution to our organization, they attempt to find ways where both our organization and their company can benefit from goodwill generated by charitable contributions,” the director told Stop the Cap! “When the deal with Charter and Time Warner was announced, we received a gently worded request to participate in the public discussion about the merger.”

The group received information containing talking points about the deal’s benefits to consumers and businesses and was asked to consider using those points in a letter to state and federal regulators that would present a positive view of the deal.

“Non-profits need the contributions of large companies like Time Warner Cable and Charter, which both serve parts of Los Angeles County, to fund our programs,” the director said. “There isn’t any pressure on us to write the letters, but since they are in the public record, we know the cable companies know who wrote and who did not.”

charter twc bhThe director of this particular organization had qualms about getting involved in a regulatory matter that did not involve the organization he leads, but he was overruled by his board of directors.

“Money is tight,” the director added. “I don’t want to comment on Charter Cable’s performance in Los Angeles except to say it is the main reason I use someone else.”

The director of the group would not comment when asked if it was uncomfortable signing a letter in support of a company who has failed to meet their personal expectations.

The fact non-profit groups spend time and resources writing letters on behalf of their donors bothers others as well.

Shawn Sheridan of Turlock, Calif. exhaustively researched over 250 pieces of correspondence the FCC has received in favor of the Charter acquisition, and he is not happy about what he found.

“The current public comments process has been infiltrated to purposely influence the independent review process,” Sheridan writes in a letter to the FCC. “I suggest to the Commission that conducting an independent analysis of the comments received from the public for [this merger] would reveal a nationwide campaign to improperly affect the Commission’s independent review of the applications, and reveal unique characteristics of who has and has not commented publicly.”

Sheridan categorized all the letters arriving from state/local representatives, Chamber of Commerce chapters, and non-profit groups:


Letters from different chapters of the Chambers of Commerce, which typically count Time Warner Cable, Charter Communications, and/or Bright House Networks as dues-paying members, were oddly uniform in their praise of the transaction.

The Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, for example, didn’t seem too interested in getting into the specifics of the deal, satisfied instead to request “the FCC approve all matters related to this merger promptly.”

Dozens of other chapters of the business association used similar language praising the merger proposal. Notice the references to “$2.5 billion” promised to be spent on commercial fiber optics and “one million new residential lines” mentioned in a handful of the filings with the FCC:

The Minnesota Chamber of Commerce advocates giving Charter whatever it wants.

The Minnesota Chamber of Commerce advocates giving Charter whatever it wants.

  • “The Missoula Area Chamber of Commerce is the voice of business in Missoula County….We are excited by New Charter’s commitment to invest $2.5 billion into networks in commercial areas.”
  • “As a member-driven organization, the Montana Chamber of Commerce represents the interests of business, ranging from small mom-and-pop operations to large companies….The new company would commit $2.5 billion to the commercial sector and would build out residential lines, improving both industry competition and local infrastructure.”
  • “With nearly 700 members that employ more than 12,000 people, the Fremont Chamber of Commerce represents a vibrant, regional business community in eastern Nebraska….Specifically, we are told, the greater financial strength of the unified operations would lead to investment of at least $2.5 billion to upgrade commercial lines to fiber-optics….Therefore, based on their assurances to us, we believe New Charter would be a great partner….”
  • “The Florida Chamber of Commerce is pleased to support Bright House Network’s merger with Charter Communications and Time Warner Cable into New Charter….New Charter would be committed to infrastructure investment. It would devote at least $2.5 billion towards commercial networks, contributing important upgrades and competition into this influential market.”
  • [Clearwater Regional Chamber of Commerce:] “We understand that New Charter plans to invest $2.5 billion toward commercial networks, contributing important upgrades and competition
  • into this influential market and to provide substantial investment throughout the entire State.”
  • [Lakeland Area Chamber of Commerce:] “For example, New Charter has committed to $2.5 billion in commercial networks and would build out one million residential line extensions.”
  • [San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce:] “The proposal promises to bring in at least $2.5 billion in new commercial infrastructure investment, much of which will be invested in areas
    where the Charter Communications currently does not operate.”
  • “With more than 10,000 members, the Greater Cleveland Partnership (GCP) is a membership association of Northeast Ohio companies and organizations and one of the largest metropolitan
    chambers of commerce in the nation….Specifically, it would commit at least $2.5 billion to build out commercial network lines and put up one million new residential lines….”
  • “The Buffalo Niagara Partnership is the region’s private sector economic development organization and regional chamber of commerce….In the near future, our state will benefit from
    a $2.5 billion expansion in the build-out of networks into commercial sectors.”
  • “At the Finger Lakes Chamber of Commerce, we serve as the voice of our local business community….We have [been] made aware of a major change in the cable broadband industry. The potential merger of Charter Communications, Time Warner Cable, and Bright House Networks into New Charter….”

The language that implies these are not spontaneous, coincidental pieces of correspondence was couched using phrases like, “we are told,” “we understand,” and “we have [been] made aware.”

These talking points actually originate from Charter Communications’ Resource Center, which distributes pro-merger information to organizations in Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks’ service areas. The references to $2.5 billion for commercial upgrades and line extensions to one million new residential customers originate in documents like this, tailored in this case to New Yorkers.

Some organizations devote more time to customizing their correspondence than others. The Business Council of New York State and the Orange County Partnership couldn’t be bothered, and essentially cut and paste nearly identical language in their “individual” letters of support:


“We recognize that the information and communications sector is an increasingly critical component of a healthy economy….The Business Council understands that access to a reliable 21st Century communications infrastructure—with competitive options for service—is essential for New Yorkers in their homes, schools and workplaces.


“The Partnership recognizes that the information and communication sector is an increasingly critical component of a healthy economy….We also understand that access to reliable 21st Century communications infrastructure, with competitive options for service, is a necessity for Orange County residents in their homes, schools and workplaces.

...and the chances of a multibillion dollar cable merger winning regulatory approval.

…and the chances of a multibillion dollar cable merger winning regulatory approval.

Dominic J. Jacangelo was so nice, he liked Charter Communications’ merger twice — once on the letterhead of the New York Snowmobile Association, where he serves as executive director, and in a nearly identical letter signed by Jacangelo as Supervisor of the Town of Poestenkill, N.Y. He cited the same talking points the various Chambers of Commerce did.

Representing the interests of 2.5 million people worldwide or its member Time Warner Cable?

Representing the interests of 2.5 million people worldwide or its member Time Warner Cable?

Sheridan disputes how merger supporters often attempt to give their views more weight by implying their positions are shared by their constituents. The Orange County Business Council claimed in its letter it represented nearly 300 Southern California businesses employing over 250,000 in the region and more than two million globally. Sheridan doubts more than 2.25 million people, many working outside the country, support the cable merger as much as OCBC suggests.

A larger question is what motivates the letter writers to weigh in on a cable merger in the first place?

For the ranchers in Montana, the desire for more rural broadband is well known. Cable operators usually don’t provide service to large, expansive ranches where a herd of cattle often vastly outnumbers the local population.

For Mr. Jacangelo, his LinkedIn page cites his talents for developing “professional relationships with business sponsors and [supporters], which might be helpful as the town of Poestenkill, like many other rural communities in upstate New York, seek expanded broadband service.

In 2009, the Maccabi World Union partnered with Jewish Life Television to provide in-depth coverage of the Maccabiah Games, a global sporting event. U.S. viewers see coverage of those games over Jewish Life TV, a cable network that reaches Time Warner Cable and Bright House customers, but not Charter Cable customers. A takeover of Time Warner and Bright House by Charter Communications could risk the end of that carriage agreement. Supporting Charter at its time of need may establish enough goodwill to guarantee JLTV will be a part of the “New Charter” lineup.

Sheridan’s research also discovered, as of Oct. 9, 2015:

  • With a total of 31 letters from politicians in the state of Texas, not one came from a local official. Eighteen Chambers of Commerce in Texas sent letters in support of the deal;
  • No state-level representatives weighed in on the deal in New York either, although 30 local and county leaders gave their support;
  • One third of the 28 states where Charter provides service had no comment on the merger, pro or con, hardly representing a nationwide groundswell of support;
  • Charter Communications’ corporate headquarters, formerly in Missouri and now in Connecticut, also drew little hometown interest. Just one letter from a state-level politician in Missouri reached the FCC. There were no letters from Connecticut at all;
  • Of 258 unique commenters sending letters in support of the merger, 211 (82%) claimed to represent the interests of their members and affiliates without providing supporting evidence that was true. Most of those organizations received direct financial support or in-kind contributions from one or more of the involved cable operators or counted them as dues-paying members;
  • Not counting Time Warner Cable or Bright House’s combined 13+ million customers, only about 30 unique consumers submitted a comment to the FCC regarding the merger, representing 0.000005% of Charter’s six million customers.

Boston Globe Columnist Pushes for Broadband Dereg; Fails to Disclose He’s On Time Warner Cable’s Board

Phillip Dampier August 26, 2015 Astroturf, Public Policy & Gov't No Comments
Broadband for America, the latest front group from big corporate telecom interests

Broadband for America is a front group funded by the telecom industry.

The Boston Globe has asked an industry-funded columnist to stop writing about broadband issues because he failed to disclose his conflicts of interest.

John E. Sununu is a former Republican U.S. Senator from New Hampshire and the son of former New Hampshire Governor John H. Sununu. Since leaving office, he has earned a significant sum representing the interests of large telecom companies while assisting the Republican presidential primary campaign of Ohio Governor John Kasich. He has used his column in the influential newspaper to help both, without any disclosure to readers he has direct financial and personal conflicts of interest.

Media Matters criticized the paper after it allowed the former Republican senator to complain about the “unnecessary regulation of the internet” without disclosing he has been paid over $750,000 by corporate interests.

Sununu: Co-shill

Sununu: “Honorary co-chair”

In an August 17 column, Sununu attacked the Obama administration for reaching “ever deeper into the economy, pursuing expensive and unnecessary regulation of the Internet, carbon emissions, and even car loans.”

The editors of the Globe failed to tell readers Sununu has a dog in the fight over broadband regulation, serving as a board member for Time Warner Cable and a paid “honorary co-chair” for Broadband for America. As Stop the Cap! first reported in 2009 in an extensive two-part expose, almost every member of Broadband for America is either a cable or phone company, a lobbyist for the telecom industry, an equipment supplier relying on the industry to stay in business, or a non-profit group that receives direct financial contributions from cable and phone companies.

Sununu also failed to mention he serves as the chair of John Kasich’s presidential campaign in New Hampshire when he wrote a column on June 22 claiming Donald Trump was “running a race where both the chance of winning and the risk of losing are zero.”

The lack of proper disclosure of conflicts of interest is not limited to the Globe. Shills for AT&T’s interests routinely appear in “guest editorials” in newspapers across AT&T’s service areas. Newspapers rarely disclose the authors have direct financial ties to AT&T, appearing to the uninformed as “independent voices.”

Dan Kennedy, an associate professor of journalism at Northeastern University, wrote that Globe Editorial Page Editor Ellen Clegg stated “Sununu has told me he will avoid writing about issues pertaining to cable and internet access because of his seat on the Time Warner Cable board.” Clegg reaffirmed that the Globe is “posting bios for our regular freelance op-ed columnists online and linking those bios to their bylines” to provide “more transparency.”

One down, countless more to go.

California Court Tosses Byron Allen’s Racial Discrimination Lawsuit Against Comcast, TWC



Citing tissue-thin evidence to prove the allegation Comcast and Time Warner Cable conspired to racially discriminate against minority-owned cable channels, a California judge dismissed a $20 billion lawsuit brought by Byron Allen’s Entertainment Studios Networks.

Allen accused Comcast and Time Warner Cable of creating minority interest cable networks that were actually owned by white ex-cable executives and hedge fund operators. Allen charged Comcast with seeking to pass the minority networks off as fulfillment of a diversity agreement Comcast had with federal officials as a condition of approving the 2010 merger of Comcast and NBCUniversal.

Allen also claimed Comcast “brazenly stated that it does not want to create any more black billionaires, such as Bob Johnson, the African-American founder of Black Entertainment Television.” Allen also referred to Sharpton as “Comcast’s least expensive negro.”

Allen widened the list of defendants to include several minority groups that have close ties to Comcast, including Al Sharpton and his National Action Network, the NAACP, and the Urban League. All of the named defendants are regular promoters of Comcast’s ventures and business interests in letters to regulators.

U.S. District Judge Terry Hatter Jr. found Allen’s case less than compelling and dismissed it outright, ruling it lacked enough verifiable facts to show his court has jurisdiction over the defendants and lacked sufficient evidence to prove liability.

The ruling did not seem to bother Allen much.

“Knowing that our lawsuit helped the FCC and the DOJ deny Comcast’s bid to buy Time Warner Cable is already a big win for us,” said Allen in a statement. “We are going to immediately appeal this decision to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals who I believe will deliver us a favorable decision.”

Comcast and the other defendants called the lawsuit offensive, frivolous and outlandish.

Comcast Messing Around With MSNBC Again; Major Program Shifts Help Comcast’s Politics

Phillip Dampier July 30, 2015 Astroturf, Editorial & Site News 3 Comments
Phillip "A Shakeup in Comcastland" Dampier

Phillip “A Shakeup in Comcastland” Dampier

Morale at MSNBC is reported to be very low this week as Comcast/NBC imposes some major programming changes that don’t seem to make much sense.

The cancellation of The Ed Show, hosted by Ed Schultz, has proved to be the most controversial, sparking a protest from a presidential candidate and new questions about how much influence Comcast brings to bear on how the news is reported.

Although never a ratings king, Schultz’s pro-labor, very anti-TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership — the latest controversial trade agreement) views, along with his harangues against executive pay and wealth inequality run contrary to the business agenda of parent company Comcast. While many other MSNBC meh-rated shows survived the culling, Schultz is out, along with The Cycle and Now with Alex Wagner.

Democratic presidential contender Bernie Sanders is not happy:

We live in a time when much of the corporate media regards politics as a baseball game or a soap opera. Ed Schultz has treated the American people with respect by focusing on the most important issues impacting their lives. He has talked about income and wealth inequality, high unemployment, low wages, our disastrous trade politics and racism in America.

I am very disappointed that Comcast chose to remove Ed Schultz from its lineup. We need more people who talk about the real issues facing our country, not fewer.

At a time when a handful of large, multi-national corporations own our major media outlets, I hope they will allow voices to be heard from those who dissent from the corporate agenda.

Not very likely.

Morning Joe: Mika Brzezinski (L), Joe Scarborough (C), Willie Geist (L)

Morning Joe: Mika Brzezinski (L), Joe Scarborough (C), Willie Geist (L)

The latest MSNBC remake will leave bottom-rated shows unscathed —  like Morning Joe, an always frustrating viewing experience featuring mercurial, long-winded and very thin-skinned Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski, alternating in whiplash fashion between the deferential “don’t set Joe off”-verbally filibustered co-host and the staunch defender of women’s rights and Barack Obama (most notably when Joe is not there.)

Comcast’s best friends make regular appearances as paid “analysts” and “talent.” Consider the irritatingly frequent appearances of irrelevant Harold Ford, Jr., friend of big business and co-chair of the corporate sock puppet group Broadband for America, part funded by Comcast, or the Rev. Al Sharpton, who writes letters in favor of whatever Comcast business deal is before regulators.

If MSNBC did a sober ratings review, allowing Sharpton’s teleprompter-dependent show PoliticsNation, which couldn’t draw flies, to stay on the schedule is inexplicable. Then there is yesterday’s news regular Ed Rendell, former mayor of Philadelphia, former governor of Pennsylvania, former almost everything… but today Comcast’s BFF. While picking up a check serving as a guest political hack on various MSNBC shows, in his spare time he penned letters supporting Comcast’s merger with Time Warner Cable.

opinionMSNBC Fossil Chris Matthews is still there as well, like a permanent scar. He got his start in 1997 on CNBC and MSNBC obsessing about Bill Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky, remained tolerant if not friendly to the Bush Administration during the “war years,” until he got a “thrill up his leg” for Barack Obama during the 2008 election. He loves politics but knows who butters his bread.

MSNBC’s biggest ratings came from Keith Olbermann, who left the network in a huffy dispute with his boss Phil Griffin. Rumors are circulating wildly this week he’ll be asked back to MSNBC now that his sports gig with ESPN has ended. But Olbermann was also willing to take shots at the corporation that paid him, something not likely to change if he returned to Comcastland. The dealbreaker may turn out to be his nemesis Griffin is still there.

msnbcMSNBC brass suggest the changes are to enhance the network’s “straight reporting” during the day and leave outspoken opinion hosts unscathed in the evening. To show that, MSNBC will present viewers the disgraced former host of the NBC Nightly News, Brian Williams (now exiled to doing special reports for cable news) and Chuck Todd, who depends on good relations with politicians to guarantee their accessibility and appearance on the always predictable Sunday morning talking point time-waster Meet the Press.

In short, MSNBC really means it when they call themselves “The Place for Politics.” Except most Americans are now tired of politics, which does not bode well for improved ratings. But then Comcast doesn’t mind a television food fight between Donald Trump vs. Everyone or disputes over Planned Parenthood or police violence, because that is unlikely to cross into the risky territory of discussing corporate influence on the media or inconvenient stories about media consolidation. You’ll find those stories on PBS from Bill Moyers.

CNBC cheerleads big corporate deals all day long, but when is the last time you heard a skeptical news story about cable mergers and network acquisitions? When is big too big?

Quid Pro Quo: Boys & Girls Club That Supported Comcast/TWC Merger Gets $8 Million from Comcast CEO

After sending 25 letters of support for the Comcast-TWC merger, the Boys & Girls Club is getting $8 million to construct the Ralph J. Roberts Boys & Girls Club (Roberts is the founder of Comcast.)

After sending 25 letters of support for the Comcast-TWC merger, the Boys & Girls Club is getting $8 million to build the Ralph J. Roberts Boys & Girls Club in Germantown, Penn. (Roberts is the founder of Comcast.)

One of Comcast’s most enthusiastic supporters for its (failed) merger deal with Time Warner Cable has just received a multi-million dollar donation from Brian Roberts, the CEO of Comcast to build a new state-of-the-art facility in Germantown, a neighborhood in Philadelphia.

The Boys & Girls Club and its various chapters pelted state and federal regulators with letters supporting Comcast at a time when the company was seeking approval of its merger with Time Warner Cable. Just a few weeks after the merger left the headlines, Comcast has announced it will spearhead a $40 million campaign to renovate six clubs in the region. Senior executive vice president David Cohen will serve as campaign chair.

An $8 million contribution from Comcast’s CEO and the Ed Snider Youth Hockey Foundation will cover much of the construction costs for the Germantown facility, which the non-profit group will name the Ralph J. Roberts Boys & Girls Club, in honor of Comcast’s founder.

For much of the 14 months the Comcast-Time Warner Cable merger was being reviewed by regulators, Comcast repeatedly name-dropped the non-profit as a supporter of the transaction. The group’s various chapters sent not less than 25 letters of support for the deal:

“We believe that a company as committed to community service as Comcast deserves our support and our gratitude,” wrote Joseph and Lisabeth Marziello, the CEOs of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Philadelphia, in a letter to the FCC. “We are confident that if Comcast extends its footprint into the areas now served by Time Warner Cable, nonprofit agencies in those communities will reap the benefits.”

Asking nonprofit groups to write letters of support is “good politics” for Comcast, said Free Press’ Matt Wood, because it gives the merger a “public-interest veneer.”

Pennsylvania’s Sens. Bob Casey (D) and Pat Toomey (R) went out of their way to mention the group in a letter to FCC chairman Thomas Wheeler:

We have seen firsthand Comcast’s record as an outstanding corporate citizen. Comcast assists 1,200 non-profits through its foundation, serves hundreds of thousands of young people through the Boys and Girls Club of America, and has invested $57 million in training for workers to keep them competitive in today’s economy.

Lost in the millions of dollars now changing hands was the impact of the proposed merger on consumers, including the kids that use the Boys & Girls Club facilities. Comcast has raised prices on its broadband service repeatedly and made participating in its Internet Essentials discount program too cumbersome for many income-challenged residents to participate. But the Boys & Girls Club came out ahead.

Stop the Cap! continues to urge our readers to consider donating only to non-profits that focus on their mission, not on quid pro quo back-scratching that works against the best interests of the very people who give their time and money to non-profits. It’s clear the Boys & Girls Club is already getting plenty of help from Comcast. They don’t need yours.

Anti Net Neutrality Sock Puppet Group Questioned About Identity Theft; Did They Send Phony Letters to Congress?

Phil Kerpen with Glenn Beck

Phil Kerpen with Glenn Beck in 2009

A conservative pro-business group allied with the telecom industry run by a former top aide for the Koch Brothers is in the middle of a growing scandal over a flood of allegedly phony, identically worded messages opposing Net Neutrality sent to members of Congress.

Politico today reported Phil Kerpen’s group – American Commitment – claimed it had easily found a half-million Americans opposed to the Obama Administration’s support for Net Neutrality and helped funnel 1.6 million messages from them to members of the House and Senate.

But suspicious members of Congress quickly determined that many of the messages originated from constituents who had no memory of sending them and a firm hired to help process incoming e-mail for members of Congress warned many of the messages originated from questionable email addresses and “a vast majority of the emails do not appear to have a valid in-district address.”

The content of many of the emails was exactly the same, with a variant paragraph inserted in the middle opposing Net Neutrality for different reasons, all urging Congress to defund the Federal Communications Commission to prevent the agency from enforcing its new Net Neutrality policies.

When Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) noticed the majority of the anti Net Neutrality messages came from constituents that have never written her before, she quickly reached out to the senders to respond to their concerns. A few replied they had never signed up to send emails criticizing Net Neutrality. Lockheed Martin, which manages many of the email messages resulting from constituents clicking the “Contact Me” button on lawmakers’ websites, notified Congress they were suspicious about the authenticity of the emails as well, and had configured a filter to begin weeding them out.


American Commitment, which maintains close ties to the Koch Brothers, characterizes Net Neutrality as an “Obama Internet Takeover.”

“The idea that an outside group could use consumer data to impersonate constituents suggests an attempt to hijack the important feedback members of Congress need to truly represent their districts,” Speier said in a statement. “This is identity theft, but instead of impersonating for financial gain, the originators of this theft are striking at the heart of our representative democracy.”

Kerpen maintains close ties to several Koch Brother-funded, pro-corporate astroturf groups. His former work opposing Net Neutrality with Americans for Prosperity, almost entirely funded by Koch Industries, mirrors his continued opposition today.

As early as 2009, Stop the Cap! tangled with Kerpen and Americans for Prosperity after Kerpen appeared on Glenn Beck’s program attacking Net Neutrality. Kerpen nodded in agreement as Beck offered that Net Neutrality represented a joint Marxist and Maoist plot to take over the Internet on behalf of the Obama Administration. Stop the Cap! has repeatedly asked Americans for Prosperity to disclose their donor list, but Kerpen has consistently refused, even after the Sunlight Foundation detailed ties the group maintains with other Koch efforts.

Kerpen's group pre-wrote most of the letters it sent to the FCC. A writer could select one of several variants where an additional paragraph would appear at the point indicated expressing one of several views across the political spectrum. Those were pre-written as well.

Kerpen’s group pre-wrote most of the letters it sent to the FCC. A writer was offered a variant where an extra paragraph would appear at the point indicated expressing one of several views across the political spectrum. Those were pre-written as well.

In his new position at American Commitment, Kerpen’s group generated the majority of responses received during the FCC’s second round accepting comments about Net Neutrality. To evade Congress’ ability to sniff out a form letter writing campaign, American Commitment went over the top, designing its form letters with at least 30 different comment variants, many offering wildly different reasons why Net Neutrality was bad for America. When the final letter was created, it appeared original until groups like the Sunlight Foundation discovered nearly exact copies of the different variants ostensibly coming from different writers.

For example, Joe Smith could oppose Net Neutrality because it violates personal freedom — a common conservative view and Marsha Smith could oppose it because it would hurt small co-ops and municipal providers — likely a left-leaning view, but both letters were pre-written by Kerpen’s group. One telltale sign of Kerpen’s involvement is his relentless personal loathing of Robert McChesney, who helped found the consumer group Free Press. Kerpen can’t help himself routinely, almost reflexively accusing McChesney of being a Marxist, extreme leftist, or outright communist. His personal views show up in one of American Commitment’s letter variants:

The ideological leader of the angry liberals calling for you to reduce the Internet to a public utility is Robert McChesney, the avowed Marxist founder of the socialist group Free Press. In an interview with SocialistProject.ca, McChesney said: “What we want to have in the U.S. and in every society is an Internet that is not private property, but a public utility…At the moment, the battle over network neutrality is not to completely eliminate the telephone and cable companies. We are not at that point yet. But the ultimate goal is to get rid of the media capitalists in the phone and cable companies and to divest them from control.” In a country of over 300 million people, even an extremist like McChesney can find, perhaps, millions of followers. But you should know better than to listen to them.

Politico asked Kerpen about the matter and he denied impersonating the alleged letter writers and suggested some other group borrowed American Commitment’s idea and potentially ran too far with it.

“We’re aware that other groups used identical language in their campaigns and we cannot speak to those efforts,” Kerpen said. “We verified our data through postal address verification and follow up phone calls. We stand by our campaign and Congress should work to stop President [Barack] Obama’s plan to regulate the Internet at the request of these constituents.”

Kerpen also continued his refusal to disclose what corporations are paying to keep the lights on at American Commitment. No matter, the Sunlight Foundation triangulated donor data and discovered much of the money comes from Koch-affiliated political organizations. Another significant donor is the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, the nation’s biggest cable lobbyist and fierce Net Neutrality opponent.

“Free State Foundation” Sock Puppetry: Big Telecom Front Group Hosts Net Neutrality Bashing Session



When a group advocating broad-based deregulation and less government suddenly takes a laser-focused, almost obsessive interest in a subject like Internet Net Neutrality, it rarely happens for free.

Randolph May’s Free State Foundation claims to be a non-profit, nonpartisan think tank to promote the free market, limited government, and rule of law principles. But in fact it primarily promotes the corporate interests of some of the group’s biggest financial backers, which include the wireless and cable industry.

Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), no stranger to big checks from cable companies himself, was in friendly territory at the group’s annual Telecom Policy Conference, a largely consumer-free affair, where he served as keynote speaker. Walden used the occasion to announce a solution to the Net Neutrality problem — defunding the FCC sufficiently to make sure it can never enforce the policy.

Walden, ignoring four million Americans who submitted comments almost entirely in favor of Net Neutrality, said the idea of the FCC overseeing an open and free Internet represented “regulatory overreach that will hurt consumers.”

Big Telecom Funded

Big Telecom Funded

Walden serves as chairman of the House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology. Walden told the audience he will be spending his time in Congress taking a hard look at the FCC, its budget request, and its policies after Net Neutrality became official FCC policy. Walden’s plans to punish the agency include a limit on FCC appropriations, making enforcement of Net Neutrality more difficult, if not impossible. Longer term, he hopes to bleed the agency dry by depriving it of resources to manage its regulatory mandate.

Walden’s third largest contributor is Comcast. He also receives significant financial support from the American Cable Association and Cox Cable. He spoke to a group that depends heavily on contributions from the same telecom industry Walden’s campaign coffer does.

According to tax filings by two cable and wireless lobbying groups, the Free State Foundation has cashed almost a half a million dollars in checks written by the groups in the last five years. The National Cable and Telecommunications Association (NCTA) paid FSF $280,000. The wireless lobby, represented by CTIA-The Wireless Association, managed $213,000 in contributions. These two groups are likely among FSF’s most substantial donors.

In 2012, Free State Foundation reported a total of $797,500 in contributions. After Stop the Cap! and other groups began reporting on the connection between the Free State Foundation’s agenda and its Big Telecom sponsors, the group began hiding its donor list. That earned FSF an “F” for donor transparency by PCWorld.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Free State Foundation Seventh Annual Telecom Policy Conference March 2015.mp4

Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) delivered the keynote address at the 7th Annual Telecom Policy Conference of the Free State Foundation. Despite receiving nearly a half million dollars in contributions from the cable and wireless lobbies, the group did not think to invest in a tripod to keep the camera steady. (38:42)

Lawsuit Plaintiff Byron Allen: Comcast Uses ‘Least Expensive Negro’ Al Sharpton to Cover Up Discrimination


Allen: Comcast thinks “Give Sharpton $50,000 and a bucket of chicken and we’re good.”

A $20 billion racial discrimination lawsuit filed on behalf of black-owned media companies has uncovered alleged ties between executives of Comcast and Time Warner Cable and public officials who have allegedly helped cover up cable industry discrimination, price-fixing, collusion, and illegal payoffs.

Byron Allen, chairman and CEO of Entertainment Studios, in a blitz of eyebrow-raising interviews, accuses the two cable giants of putting minority-owned channels in the back of the bus, while falsely claiming black celebrities are the owners of minority networks that are actually controlled by former Comcast executives and private equity firms.

“Comcast has, in essence, created a ‘Jim Crow’ process with respect to licensing channels from 100 percent African American–owned media,” the suit reads, according to The Huffington Post. “Comcast has reserved a few spaces for 100 percent African American–owned media in the ‘back of the bus’ while the rest of the bus is occupied by white-owned media companies.”

The lawsuit, filed against Time Warner Cable, Comcast, the Urban League, the NAACP, former FCC commissioner Meredith Attwell Baker, and Al Sharpton’s National Action Network, claims the defendants are taking payoffs from the two cable giants and colluding to promote their business agendas and give minority support to their mergers and acquisitions.

“The industry spends about $50 billion a year licensing cable networks in which 100 percent African American-owned media receives less than $3 million per year in revenue from that $50 billion stream of money that is spent to acquire content,” he said.

Under normal circumstances, many African-American civil rights organizations would immediately raise a ruckus over the imbalance, but Allen alleges Comcast and Time Warner Cable have bought their silence, and in the case of Al Sharpton, his loyalty and support.

Byron Allen accuses Comcast of locking out 100% black-owned networks.

Byron Allen accuses Comcast of locking out 100% black-owned networks.

“Instead of spending real money with real, 100 percent African American-owned media, it is easier to give [Sharpton] $50,000 to give them a cover,” he said. “‘Give [Sharpton] $50,000 and a bucket of chicken and we’re good.'”

Allen called Sharpton the “least expensive negro” Comcast could find, and rewarded his loyalty with a $750,000 annual salary hosting a barely watched nightly show on Comcast-owned MSNBC.

“Why is Sharpton on TV every night on MSNBC? Because he endorsed Comcast’s acquisition of NBCUniversal,” Allen said. “He signed the memorandum of understanding back in 2010. He endorsed the merger. Next thing you know we’re watching him on television trying to form a sentence. Every night we have the privilege of watching adult illiteracy.”

Attwell-Baker is a defendant for her highly visible warp speed trip through D.C.’s revolving door, as the former Republican FCC commissioner seemed to be writing her resignation letter seconds after voting in favor of the Comcast-NBCUniversal merger, quickly accepting a high paid lobbying job with the cable company.

“President Obama promised us transparency, hope, and change,” he said. “And what happened in the Obama administration is former commissioner Meredith Attwell Baker voted for the merger of Comcast NBCU and then 90 days later took a much higher paying job with Comcast after granting them the merger. That was betraying the public’s trust as a public service.”

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/HuffPost Byron Allen 2-27-15.mp4

Watch the HuffPost Live interview with Byron Allen, who reveals who really owns the minority channels Comcast brags about. (7:37)

“President Obama has been bought and paid for. He has taken donations from Comcast. Comcast is his biggest contributor,” he added. “AT&T is one of his biggest contributors. Listen, Obama, your own FTC is investigating AT&T for throttling. How can you even consider them to buy DirectTV when you’re suing them? Is it because you took donations? Yes, Obama. Don’t even think about letting them merge until they settle this lawsuit and that lawsuit.”


Sharpton, in addition to being a regular supporter of Comcast’s various business agendas, also hosts a nightly show on Comcast-owned MSNBC, for which he is paid $750,000 a year.

“AT&T spent more money on Al Sharpton’s birthday party than they have on 100 percent African-American owned media combined,” Allen said. “He (Sharpton) should return the money because AT&T doesn’t even celebrate Martin Luther King Day as a national holiday. The employees there take it as a sick day.”

Apart from Allen’s inflammatory appearances on cable news, his lawsuit does bring to light several important new facts about Comcast’s claims it supports minority-owned channels. Allen’s lawsuit alleges many of those channels are actually secretly owned and controlled by former Comcast executives, private equity firms, and Wall Street banks.

  • Aspire is controlled by Leo Hindery and Leo Hindery is not black. They don’t pay Aspire any subscription fees. Aspire is free,” said Allen.
  • “Sean ‘P Diddy’ Combs’ network Revolt TV is controlled by a private equity firm called Highbridge Capital. The person who runs Highbridge Capital is a former Comcast executive named Payne Brown. Highbridge Capital is owned by JP Morgan. On the board of JP Morgan is Steve Burke, the number two executive at Comcast,” said Allen.

These revelations are important because Comcast promised to create and carry minority-owned channels as part of several conditions mandated by regulators to approve the 2011 acquisition of NBCUniversal. Allen claims Comcast has broken its commitment and instead created “token front” networks or minority network “window dressing” that feature well-known African-American celebrities that pose as owners of the networks, but in fact they are controlled by white-owned businesses.

The lawsuit claims Comcast carries only one 100% African-American owned and controlled network — the Africa Channel. But dig a little deeper and you find the network is owned by a former Comcast/NBCU executive that played a critical part organizing minority group support for the NBCUniversal buyout.

Comcast and Sharpton’s organization both dismissed the lawsuit as inflammatory and frivolous.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/CNN Sharpton called black pawn in white game 3-1-15.flv

Byron Allen appeared on CNN’s Reliable Sources and called Sharpton “a black pawn in a very sophisticated white economic chess game. He’s being used by his white masters at Comcast and AT&T. He just needs to shut up and get in the bleachers.” (7:12)

Enjoy Better: Maine Lawmakers Slumming in the Off-Season at Maine Resort, Sponsored by Time Warner Cable

inn by the sea

Welcome to Inn by the Sea, where relaxed coastal luxury comes naturally.

Come for the unpretentious elegance, but don’t stay for the broadband.

Time Warner Cable’s war on competitive broadband in the state of Maine tastes delicious, if you are a lawmaker who enjoys a $26 herb marinated skirt steak with roasted mushrooms, chimichurri, piquillo aioli, and herbed hand cut steak fries in the dining room of the Cape Elizabeth seaside resort Inn by the Sea. Time Warner Cable (and you) picked up the tab, and for those lawmakers too full to drive, the cable company was ready with complimentary rooms at the Inn that retail off-season for $205-355 a night.

twcWelcome to the 2015 Time Warner Cable Winter Policy Conference, held Jan 22-23 at the remodeled resort and spa where a stay during the summer can cost $500 a day.

Thursday night’s dinner was followed by an all-day information lobbying event Friday — a workday when Maine lawmakers would normally be expected to serve the public interest, but served Time Warner Cable’s instead.

The overall theme of the conference: Defending Time Warner Cable’s performance in Maine and why letting community-owned providers compete with them is a really bad idea.

While lawmakers enjoyed complimentary access to the Inn by Sea’s high-speed Wi-Fi connection, Internet service around the rest of Cape Elizabeth is considerably less sublime, with Angie’s List reporting only 23 percent of the locals consider their broadband provider reliable. Maine itself is ranked 49th out of 50 states for quality of service and availability and no steak dinner will convince honest lawmakers the state is prepared with robust broadband required for the 21st century digital economy. Several members have introduced various measures to aid communities trying to move beyond DSL provided by FairPoint Communications and up to 50Mbps broadband from Time Warner Cable.

SWFIMG_080723_15590228_5EG1FThe thought of competition is enough to give any cable lobbyist indigestion, especially if the new entrant provides fiber to the home service, something almost unknown among commercial providers in Maine.

Lawmakers caught attending the shindig claimed they attended the “educational forum” to become informed.

But a review of the presenter list suggests this was hardly a 60 Minutes/Edward R. Murrow moment. Lawmakers may not have been aware the presentations were about as balanced as a program length commercial:

  • Moderator (Session 1): Jadz Janucik, National Cable & Telecommunication Association – The NCTA is the nation’s largest cable industry lobbying group;
  • Dave Thomas, Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton LLP: A corporate attorney representing cable companies, particularly when they face competitive threats;
  • Lisa Schoenthaler, National Cable & Telecommunication Association;
  • Moderator (Session 2): Charlie Williams, Time Warner Cable;
  • Charles Davidson and Michael Santorelli from the Advanced Communications Law and Policy Institute at New York Law School. Both have received direct compensation from Time Warner Cable for their  “research” reports and are very active and frequent defenders of Time Warner Cable’s public policy agenda;
  • Joe Gillan, Gillan Associates – an economist working under paid contract with the cable industry;
  • Moderator (Session 3): Tom Federle, Federle Law: Chief lobbyist for Time Warner Cable in Maine for over seven years;
  • Robin Casey, Enockever LLP: Casey is one of the nation’s pre-eminent cable industry lawyers, called by the Texas Cable Association “the authority on the telecom industry;”
  • Mary Ellen Fitzgerald, Critical Insights: A Maine pollster hired by Time Warner Cable to carry out the company’s carefully worded survey on broadband issues;
  • Moderator (Session 5): Melinda Poore, senior vice president of governmental relations, Time Warner Cable Maine.

spa lobby“If we want good public policy, there’s reason for all of us to be worried,” utilities expert Gordon Weil, the state’s first Public Advocate, who represented the interests of ratepayers before regulators, told the Maine Center for Public Integrity. Such treatment of legislators is “obviously intended to persuade them by more than the validity of the arguments; it’s intended to persuade by the reception they’re given.”

That sentiment was echoed in a glowing review from a Time Warner colleague given to Tom Federle, the company’s top lobbyist.

“Tom has been the primary lobbyist for Time Warner Cable’s Maine operations for the past seven years,” said Melinda Poole, an executive vice president for governmental relations at Time Warner Cable. “He has a real knack for distilling complex issues for policy makers, has always been able to advance our positions effectively, and consistently has outperformed for us. Tom is well respected by legislators on both sides of the aisle.”

Lawmakers contacted by the Maine Center for Public Integrity seemed to sidestep or downplay the ethical issues of attending the company-sponsored event.

“I think this idea of meals and conversations is how Augusta functions on some level,” said Rep. Mark Dion (D-Portland), who attended the event in Cape Elizabeth, did not stay overnight but was provided dinner and breakfast by Time Warner.

Sen. Andre Cushing (R-Hampden), for whom Time Warner paid the cost of meals and the room, said he thought “about a dozen” legislators attended the Thursday night dinner. Dion said “30 or 35″ attended the second day’s sessions.

Partying-ExecsScott Pryzwansky, Time Warner Cable’s director of public relations for the eastern U.S., declined to answer any specific questions but replied by email: “As one of Maine’s leading employers and telecommunications companies, we designed this second biannual educational forum to help policymakers and others better understand some of the complex telecommunications issues confronting Maine and the nation.”

Critics contend such “educational” meetings held at posh locations where company lobbyists hand out free meals and room keys do more to obfuscate than clarify issues for lawmakers, who are likely to remember the accommodations and who provided them more than the seminar.

“I would have said, ‘Fine, if you want to meet with me, come meet on state facilities, no steak dinner,’ said Weil. “If steak dinners didn’t work, they wouldn’t give them steak dinners.”

Time Warner Cable’s two-day event included a packet of handouts, obtained by Stop the Cap!, that illustrate exactly how one-sided the affair was:

  • sock puppetA highly slanted (refuted here) presentation opposing “Government Operated Networks” (or GONs – a favorite acronym used by industry-funded think tanks to oppose municipal broadband) produced by the Advanced Communications Law and Policy Institute;
  • an NCTA-produced sheet opposing taxes on Internet access;
  • a Time Warner Cable-written summary of recent Maine Public Utility Commission conclusions about the availability of affordable telephone service;
  • a guest letter to the editor from Fred Campbell, who has a long history running industry-funded groups that are supposed to advocate for competition, except when an industry friend’s merger deal is on the line;
  • and a blog post from the Koch Brothers-funded corporate-friendly Reason.com.

The slanted push-poll part of the presentation was also unsurprisingly predictable.

“Do you approve or disapprove of the current practice of Maine’s government using tax dollars and fees on consumers to subsidize public entities to compete with private businesses?” asked one question.

Another asked if residents would favor “using taxpayer supported debt to build government-owned broadband networks,” ignoring the fact many projects are covered by bonds that carry little or no risk to taxpayers. Some profitable projects could even return money to local communities.

At least one lawmaker was quickly skeptical of the veracity of the company-sponsored poll.

State Rep. Sarah Gideon (D- Freeport) said some of the questions were “leading.”

“Nobody’s going to say ‘Yes, I want my state to incur debt,’” said Gideon. “We see lots of surveys as policymakers and we have to be smart enough to look at what questions are asked.”

Since 2008, Time Warner has donated more than $240,000 to Maine politicians: $127,360 to Democrats and Democratic PACs, and $113,250 to Republicans and Republican PACs. Most of the minor improvements in the state’s broadband rankings since 2013 come from community providers providing a quantum speed leap over traditional DSL and cable broadband services most Maine residents receive.

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  • Dan: Or it could offer service for even less and try to appeal to retirees....
  • Joe Villanova: So Frontier has little choice : upgrade to VDSL and G.Fast or else....
  • Dan: Looks like Dan McCarthy is the one who owned up to that 25% penetration, unless I read the transcript too fast...
  • BobInIllinois: Phil, am actually in Ireland now & for the last week. Can confirm that the above 4 providers are all advertising bundles on trucks, billboards, r...

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