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HissyFitWatch: Republicans Accuse the White House of Pressuring FCC on Net Neutrality

Wheeler at this morning's hearing.

Wheeler at this morning’s hearing.

Revenge-seeking Republicans spent more than two hours this morning grilling the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, Thomas Wheeler, in the first of five Congressional hearings on the agency to be held over the next two weeks.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, accused the FCC of a lack of transparency regarding the recent release of Net Neutrality rules that universally ban paid fast lanes and revenue-based traffic management. Republicans accused the Obama Administration of secretly pressuring Wheeler to adopt strong Open Internet protections.

“The lack of transparency surrounding the open Internet rule-making process raises a lot of questions,” said Chaffetz.

Chaffetz, most of his Republican colleagues, and many large telecom companies object to the Net Neutrality rules and suggest Wheeler’s rumored original lighter-touch “hybrid approach” was swamped by White House objections and replaced with a much stronger Open Internet policy framed around Title II reclassification of broadband as a telecommunications service at the urging of the administration.

Chaffetz dismissed comments from four million Americans writing the FCC in favor of Net Neutrality claiming the writers did not recommend Title II reclassification of broadband, despite the fact many suggested exactly that.

To bolster Republican arguments that President Obama exercised undue influence on an independent agency, Chaffetz’s committee selectively released portions of now-unredacted email exchanges between Wheeler, agency officials, Congress, and the White House. It also included a partial e-mail exchange involving AT&T’s top lobbyist, Jim Cicconi, who is evidently on a first-name basis with some of the FCC’s highest officials, including Wheeler’s senior counselor, Philip Verveer.

In response to a November 10 news release featuring comments from FCC chairman Wheeler in response to President Barack Obama’s statements of support for strong Net Neutrality, Cicconi sent a concerned email to Wheeler’s office the Republicans chose not to disclose. But they did include Verveer’s response:

Jim,

We’re trying to schedule a conversation about this morning’s developments for some time this afternoon. I hope we’re able to connect.

Phil

In response to that, Cicconi fired off this quick response from his iPad:

I hope so too.

Now I at least understand why you pushed the hybrid.

This is awful. And bad for any semblance of agency independence too.

Too many people saw Zients going in to meet with Tom last week.

verveer

Cicconi is referring to Jeff Zients, a White House economic adviser, who met with Wheeler on Nov. 6. In Cicconi’s mind, and by extension the Republicans at today’s House hearing, that meeting represented “undue pressure from the White House.”

Republicans also attempted to prove the FCC and the White House closely collaborated on a rollout of Net Neutrality using an email from an irritated Wheeler to his senior staff shortly after his driveway was blocked by Net Neutrality activists:

FYI, Isn’t it interesting:

  1. The day of the demonstration just happens to be the day folks take action at my house.
  2. The video of [President Obama] just happens to end up on the same message as the video from [the president].
  3. The White House sends this email to their supporter list asking “pass this on to anyone who cares about saving the Internet.”

Hmmm….

wheeler demo

chaffetz

Chaffetz

But Wheeler’s message suggests he was never aware of the White House’s campaign to bolster Net Neutrality, much less a part of it.

A third email from then Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid’s office revealed the senator was no fan of Title II reclassification of broadband to protect Net Neutrality. David Krone, Reid’s chief of staff, lectured Wheeler about keeping strong Net Neutrality off the table because it creates “problems for us.”

In May 2014, chairman Wheeler announced his plans for a hybrid approach to Net Neutrality that would likely combine bans on censorship with permission for Internet providers to set up paid fast lanes for content producers like Netflix.

Initial media reports of Wheeler’s intentions sparked a major backlash against the proposal among Net Neutrality advocates.

In a May 15, 2014 email exchange with Wheeler, Krone attempted to buck up Wheeler and his “third way” Net Neutrality plan once in the morning before it was announced and later that evening after the proposal took heavy fire in the press.

9:26 am (Krone to Wheeler)

Good luck today.

Not sure how things have landed but I trust you to make it work. Please shout if you need anything.

Spoke again with the [White House] and told them to back off Title II. Went through once again the problems it creates for us.

6:15pm (Krone to Wheeler)

Too funny. I literally just watched your remarks from this morning. Spot on. Thank you!!!

P.S. Zients was definitely reacting to press reports. Or, should I say, overreacting. My main point to the [White House] is how can you declare today that regulations written in the 1930’s will work fine for 2014 technology. Let Tom do his job and this will be fine.

reid

Another email exchange between Wheeler and John Podesta, counselor to the president, referenced a New York Times story that signaled Wheeler was backpedaling on Net Neutrality, a story later proven inaccurate.

podesta

At this morning’s hearing, Wheeler pushed back against the Republican accusations.

“There were no secret instructions from the White House,” Wheeler said. “I did not, as CEO of an independent agency, feel obligated to follow the president’s recommendation.”

C-SPAN carried this morning’s hearing with FCC chairman Thomas Wheeler appearing before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. (2 hours, 41 minutes)

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

Allen

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

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)

HissyFitWatch: Bell Loses Net Neutrality Case, Threatens to Bury Complaining Consumers In Legal Fees

The first "bricks of paper" arriving from Bell's attorneys in the case of Bell v. Ordinary Canadian consumers

The first legal “bricks of paper” arriving from Bell’s attorneys in the case of Bell v. Ordinary Canadian consumers arrived at the home of Jean-François Mezei of Pointe-Claire, Que.

A Manitoba university student and consumer groups who won their case against Bell’s preferential treatment of its mobile streaming video service are now being threatened with demands they personally cover Bell’s legal expenses as the phone company appeals the ruling in court.

The dispute involves Bell Mobile TV Service — a $5/mo optional add-on that allows Bell’s mobile customers to stream up to 10 hours of video programming, some of it from Bell-owned television networks like CTV, without it counting against the customer’s usage cap. Each additional hour costs $3. The service prices usage based on time, not data usage, which lets Bell stream very high quality video to customers. Competitors like Netflix do not have this option and their customers are billed based on the amount of data consumed, which is around 800 percent higher than what Bell Mobile TV charges.

University of Manitoba graduate student Benjamin Klass filed a complaint with the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) in 2013 accusing Bell of violating Net Neutrality and creating an anti-competitive marketplace for online video. ​Twelve of the 43 channels available on Mobile TV — including CTV, TSN and The Movie Network — are owned by Bell Media, a subsidiary, like Bell Mobility, of the media behemoth BCE.

Klass alleged the practice was a clear violation of Canada’s laws governing broadcasting: “No Canadian carrier shall, in relation to the provision of a telecommunications service or the charging of a rate for it, unjustly discriminate or give an undue or unreasonable preference toward any person, including itself, or subject any person to an undue or unreasonable disadvantage.”

The CRTC agreed with Klass and in late January ruled in favor of Klass’ complaint, giving Bell and Quebec-based Vidéotron (which offers a similar service) until the end of April to close them down in their present form.

BCE, the parent of Bell Mobility, told the CBC it was “shocked” by the CRTC’s ruling, suspecting the complaining groups mislead regulators into thinking Bell favored its own content over others.

“There’s a hint here that the government believes Bell Mobile TV delivers only Bell Media content,” spokesman Jason Laszlo said. “They should know we offer mobile TV content from all of Canada’s leading broadcasters in English and French.”

Bell_Mobility logoLaszlo added Bell-owned content only comprises 20% of Bell Mobile TV programming and that the ruling would deprive more than 1.5 million current Bell Mobile TV subscribers from getting the service after the spring deadline to shut it down.

The CRTC and consumer groups argue that is beside the point.

“At its core, this decision isn’t so much about Bell or Vidéotron,” CRTC chair Jean-Pierre Blais said at a breakfast luncheon in London, Ont., in late January. “It’s about all of us and our ability to access content equally and fairly, in an open market that favours innovation and choice. The CRTC always wants to ensure ­— and this decision supports this goal ­— that Canadians have fair and reasonable access to content. It may be tempting for large vertically integrated companies to offer certain perks to their customers. But when the impetus to innovate steps on the toes of the principle of fair and open access to content, we will intervene.”

Consumer group OpenMedia says Bell’s motivation isn’t to create a level playing field or provide customers with more options for online video. It’s about artificially inflating the cost of accessing services like Netflix and other independent video companies that are innovating away from the traditional pay television package.

“Bell is doing everything in its power to make the Internet more like cable TV,” said OpenMedia campaigns manager Josh Tabish. “They want the power to pick and choose what we see by forcing competing services into a more expensive toll lane online.”

Klass (Image: CBC)

Klass (Image: CBC)

Bell’s legal strategy going forward is an homage to the one American wireless companies used for years to avoid Net Neutrality.

Bell Mobility argues that Bell Mobile TV is a broadcasting service, not a telecommunications service and therefore doesn’t fall under the jurisdiction of the Telecommunications Act.

Since the CRTC was not receptive to that argument, Bell is taking the matter to the Federal Court of Appeal, asking it to overturn the CRTC ruling and grant the company court and legal costs paid for by the Canadian consumers that brought the original complaint.

Jean-François Mezei of Pointe-Claire, Que. is among them and has been the unhappy recipient of several parcels containing “bricks of paper” from FedEx he suspects is just the beginning.

Mezei has been tweeting about ongoing developments in the case, and asked Bell, “how come you have no press release bragging about how Bell Mobility is suing individual citizens who participated in [the CRTC complaint]?”

Klass told CBC News he hasn’t yet made up his mind how to respond to the court filing, but admitted it is unnerving.

“In that regard, it really strikes me as a method of intimidation,” he said. “Right off the bat, it has a chilling effect. It appears that Bell is simply pursuing the argument, that it unsuccessfully made to the CRTC, through the court.”

Bell Canada Customer Called a “Slut” and “Bitch” in E-Mail by Angry Customer Service Representative

Phillip Dampier February 17, 2015 Bell (Canada), Consumer News, HissyFitWatch 1 Comment
Bell customer Leticia Chartier  (Photo: Judith Plamondon, QMI Agency)

Bell customer Leticia Chartier (Photo: Judith Plamondon, QMI Agency)

A Bell Canada customer complaining about a spike in her television and broadband bill from $72 to $105 was called a “slut” and a “bitch” in an email after she didn’t give the representative high marks for the online customer support chat experience.

Leticia Chartier’s new customer promotion apparently expired and her efforts to secure an explanation of her new rate was met by a shrug by Bell’s customer service. The online agent curtly told her to contact a different department. But before terminating the chat, Bell’s representative, identified as Mohamed Boutallaka, suddenly remembered the customer would be invited to score his performance in a survey after the chat window closed.

Chartier told QMI Agency he begged her not to give him a bad grade for his performance.

Chartier responded favorably to his request, or so she thought, scoring his performance “pretty good,” but explaining her rating wasn’t a criticism of the agent’s performance, just his lack of empowerment to help her resolve the issue.

Not good enough.

A few minutes after submitting the survey, the representative dispatched a scathing e-mail to her personal e-mail address on file with Bell.

bell bad“You’re a bitch Leticia and a real slut,” read the e-mail, which Chartier provided to QMI Agency.

Chartier immediately contacted Bell to complain about the email, but she says nobody at the company is taking the matter seriously.

“The supervisor who I spoke to on the phone apologized, but she never called me back to follow-up,” Chartier said.

After some research on Facebook, Chartier was reassured to discover Boutallaka works out of Bell’s call center… in Morocco.

“At least I know he won’t come to my place.”

A Bell Canada spokesman stopped short of promising the agent in question would be disciplined or fired. He only promised an internal investigation would begin over the incident.

Comcast Retaliates: Customers Who Cancel/Downgrade Service Are Called ‘Whore,’ ‘B*tch,’ ‘A**hole,’ and Worse

comcast sucksThat paragon of virtue Comcast is back in the news again with yet another customer service horror story.

After Americans once again rated Comcast one of the most-hated corporation in America, employees are launching the equivalent of a “right back at you” retaliation campaign aimed at departing and downgrading customers with name-calling we cannot print on Stop the Cap!

It all started with Lisa Brown, a volunteer for a missions organization in Spokane, Wash., who told Elliot.org Comcast retaliated against her husband for daring to downsize his Comcast cable package. Brown said her husband’s name Ricardo was changed to “A**hole” on their bill. She tried in vain to get the unauthorized name change corrected, but nobody made things right in the local cable office or in Comcast’s executive customer relations department.

When a reporter called Comcast to confirm the profane name change, alarm bells rang as Comcast realized it had the latest PR Disaster of the Month on its hands.

Steve Kipp, Comcast’s vice president of communications in the Washington State region was shocked, shocked to discover customer service abuse was going on inside Comcast offices. He must not have worked there back in 2005 when the cable company called one woman a “b*tch dog” on her bill.

“We have spoken with our customer and apologized for this completely unacceptable and inappropriate name change,” Kipp told Elliot.org. “We have zero tolerance for this type of disrespectful behavior and are conducting a thorough investigation to determine what happened. We are working with our customer to make this right and will take appropriate steps to prevent this from happening again.”

Comcast eventually refunded back 24 months of cable service to the Brown family.

Screen-Shot-2015-01-28-at-1.38.47-PM

Notice Comcast charges a $9.50 “administrative late fee” on all accounts that are past due more than 10-14 days after the billing due date. Customers who do not clear their earlier balance to zero may be subject to this fee indefinitely with each billing statement.

Zero tolerance lasted about five minutes before more complaints began pouring in from other Comcast customers who have also been on the receiving end of Comcast’s wrath:

  • One customer said a Comcast employee changed his name to the phonetic spelling of the “f word,” unprintable on this website;
  • Julie Swano reported her December 2014 Comcast bill was addressed to “Whore” Julia Swano;
  • Carolina Heredia: “They changed my name to ‘dummy’ on my online account, so that the greeting was ‘Hello, dummy,’” she said.
whore_julia

Notice Comcast customers who want a paper bill pay $5 more each month than those who accept eBills. Comcast customers complain “EcoBill” offers illusory savings, because for many the $5 “credit” was applied to bills that were also $5 higher than before. (Click image to read complaints)

Comcast’s Tom Karinshak, senior vice president of customer service, treated the incidents as some type of computer glitch or honest mistake.

“We’re retraining our teams on the importance of making name changes properly,” Karinshak said. “We’re looking for automated solutions to prevent this from happening in the future.”

“What amazed me then was that I had talked with at least 20 people at Comcast between Dec. 16 and Jan. 6 who could see that my name was ‘whore’ and they did nothing about it,” Swano said.

But once the matter went viral and could influence regulators contemplating Comcast’s buyout of Time Warner Cable, Comcast got serious enough to write about the incident on its blog.

“We have apologized to our customer for this unacceptable situation and addressed it directly with the employee who will no longer be working on behalf of Comcast,” wrote Charlie Herrin, senior vice president of customer experience.

Swano does not believe it is an isolated incident.

“I have no record of any recent contact with Comcast until Dec. 16. So whoever chose to re-name me picked my account out of a hat,” she said. “That says there are probably millions of us out there who Comcast employees have renamed. We need to find all of them.”

The American Customer Satisfaction Index pegged Time Warner Cable as the nation’s most unloved company in 2014, with its Internet service rated 236th out of 236 companies in customer satisfaction, and its TV service rated 235th. Comcast Corp.’s Xfinity Internet service placed 234th out of 236 and its TV service landed at 232 in the list released in May.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/CNN Another Comcast customer-service gaffe 2-1-15.flv

CNN talks with the customer Comcast called an “a**hole” on their bill after the family dared to downgrade their cable service. (1:53)

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