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CNBC (Comcast)’s Magic Box of Tricks and Traps: The Hit on Tumblr Founder David Karp Debunked

Uh oh... deer in headlights moment for Tumblr founder David Karp.

Uh oh… deer in headlights moment for Tumblr founder David Karp.

Net Neutrality opponents today made hay about an underwhelming, sometimes stumbling debate performance by Tumblr founder David Karp, who was inexplicably CNBC’s go-to-guy to explain the inner machinations of the multi-billion dollar high-speed Internet connectivity business.

TechFreedom, an industry-funded libertarian-leaning group spent much of the day hounding Karp about his “painful, babbling CNBC interview.”

“Those pushing #TitleII have NO FREAKING CLUE what it means,” tweeted TechFreedom’s Berin Szoka.

BTIG Research devoted a whole page to the eight minute performance, where Karp faced interrogation by two CNBC hosts openly hostile to Net Neutrality and another that expressed profound concern the Obama Administration would over-enforce Net Neutrality under Title II regulations. CNBC is owned by Comcast, a fierce opponent of mandatory Net Neutrality.

“Given the importance of Net Neutrality and the central role played by Tumblr’s Karp in getting us to this point, we thought it was very important for everyone to watch his interview earlier today on CNBC in its entirety,” wrote Rich Greenfield, noting the “best parts” (where Karp appeared like a deer frozen by oncoming headlights) were encapsulated into an extra video clip.

Greenfield referred to a Wall Street Journal piece in February that suggested access means everything when it comes to D.C. politics:

“In a lucky coincidence, Tumblr Chief Executive David Karp, who attended the meeting in New York, found himself seated next to Mr. Obama at a fundraiser the following day hosted by investment manager Deven Parekh.

Mr. Karp told Mr. Obama about his concerns with the net-neutrality plan backed by Mr. Wheeler, according to people familiar with the conversation. Those objections were relayed to the White House aides secretly working on an alternative.”

That was sufficient for some to imply Karp was a powerful influence over the president’s sudden pronouncement last November that strong, all-encompassing Net Neutrality was the was to go.

CNBC’s hosts grilled Karp, asking him to prove a negative, set up false premises for Karp to defend, and repeatedly cut his answers off. At the same time, Karp was clearly unprepared and often did not have his facts in order.

Stop the Cap! sorts it all out.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/CNBC Tumblr Net Neutrality 2-24-15.flv

Nobody’s shining moment on the Net Neutrality debate on CNBC featuring an unprepared David Karp, founder of Tumblr vs. the B-team at CNBC – lackeys with an agenda who can’t wait to interrupt. Truth comes in last place. (8:18)

CNBC Claim: “If you talk to AT&T’s Randall Stephenson, he will say right now they have more capital expenditures than any company in America … and if you turn it into a utility it will not be profitable to continue investing like that.”

Fact: AT&T does invest heavily in its network but also enjoys very healthy returns on that investment. In 2014, AT&T was expected to end the year spending about $21 billion, primarily on its highly profitable wireless network. Last week, USA Today published a list of the top 12 companies in the Standard & Poor’s 500 that boosted capital spending by 40% or more in the past 12 months and spent at least 15% of revenue on capital expenditures. AT&T was not on it. Outside of claims from telecom companies and their lobbyists, there are no plans by the FCC to turn broadband into a regulated utility.

Karp Claim: “There is a tremendous amount of throttling going on right now.”

CNBC Question from Alternate Universe of Fair, Balanced Journalism:

CNBC Question from Alternate Universe of Fair, Balanced Journalism: “In general, do you think heavy-handed government regulation is a good thing or a bad thing for an industry?”

Fact: “Throttling” is not well-defined here. There is intentional throttling among certain wireless companies, usually under the guise of “fair access policies” and usage caps, and there is throttling as a side effect of congestion in two areas: backbone connectivity among certain ISPs and wholesale traffic handlers and last mile congestion among providers, especially those offering DSL in rural areas, where multiple customers share access to a limited capacity middle mile network. There is no evidence that any significant wired providers are intentionally throttling the speeds of services except as part of a fair access policy or a purposeful lack of investment in network upgrades.

CNBC Claim: “You have a monopoly because it is really expensive to build the pipes so you have not had multiple people who will build pipes to the door.”

Fact: The capital cost required to offer wired broadband service to each home is a clear deterrent for many providers, but not an insurmountable one as Google and community-owned providers have demonstrated. The cable industry won early protection from competition in exclusive franchise agreements that calmed investor fears that the enormous cost of wiring communities for cable might not be repaid if a competition war broke out. AT&T later fought for and won statewide franchising agreements and considerable deregulation in many states where it provides U-verse, arguing regulatory burden reduction would enhance competition. But the same large cable and phone companies that achieved deregulation for themselves have lobbied heavily to regulate and banish community-owned providers from getting off the ground by encouraging the passage of restrictive state laws making such competition nearly impossible.

CNBC Question: “In general, do you think heavy-handed government regulation is a good thing or a bad thing for an industry?”

Our reply: Really?

Karp: I think a bright line rule that sort of spells out these foundational principles that we believe in… I think the Bill of Rights is a good thing… even without getting into the weeds, spelling out something like the First Amendment that says this is a truth that we believe… (cut off).

CNBC: I don’t see how that is an answer at all comparing this to the Bill of… I understand the Bill of Rights but… has there been a problem up to this point where you feel that people… that Net Neutrality has been violated.

Karp: We’ve had instances where companies like Comcast have tried to block whole protocols and shut off consumers access to new innovative parts of the Internet.

Traffic congestion problems on many major ISPs were limited to Netflix traffic, until Netflix began paying for peering connections with problem ISPs.

Traffic congestion problems on many major ISPs were limited to Netflix traffic, until Netflix began paying for peering connections with problem ISPs.

Fact: In 2007, Comcast installed new software or equipment on its networks that began selectively interfering with some of Comcast’s customers’ TCP/IP connections. The most widely discussed interference was with certain BitTorrent peer-to-peer (P2P) file-sharing communications, but other protocols were also affected. The case led to an effort by the FCC to introduce open Internet traffic rules in 2010 which Comcast later defeated in court. At no time did Comcast completely block access – it simply impeded it, reducing customer speeds only while using those services.

A CNBC host then challenged Karp to prove a negative on AT&T’s plans to pull back investment in its network expansion.

“How has it been disproven that he’s not actually going to pull in on his buildout of more infrastructure?”

Fact: On Nov 7, 2014 – a week before President Obama unveiled his support for strong Net Neutrality policies – AT&T announced at least $3 billion in capex reduction (or “pull in” to quote CNBC) for 2015 in a press release on its acquisition of Mexico Wireless Provider Iusacell:

AT&T’s VIP-related capital investment levels will peak in 2014, as the company has said previously. As a result, AT&T expects its 2015 capital expenditure budget for its existing businesses to be in the $18 billion range. This will bring the company’s capital spending as a percent of total revenues to the mid-teens level — consistent with its historical capital spending levels.

Even after AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson was announcing cutbacks in capex, his office was releasing press releases claiming a major expansion of AT&T’s gigabit fiber upgrades for U-verse, claims Stop the Cap! have found to be grossly exaggerated.

Stephenson made the mistake of putting the cart in front of the broadband horse, making it impossible to credibly claim he was reducing his capex budget because of a Net Neutrality policy that had not even been announced yet.

CNBC Claim: “It doesn’t mean someone will pay for it if they are losing money as a result.”

Fact: None of the providers mentioned by CNBC have lost any money provisioning broadband service. In fact, broadband is becoming the new profit center of the industry, netting higher revenue after adjustments for cost than any other part of the cable package.

Another exchange:

CNBC: “If you look at Netflix traffic, sometimes it is 80 percent of the network’s nighttime load.”

Karp: “The consumers are paying for it and Netflix is already paying for it.”

CNBC: “I am not a Netflix user and it ticks me off I have to subsidize everybody that is doing that. Why do I have to pay for that?”

Fact: The CNBC host is being disingenuous and inaccurate. Although Netflix traffic can constitute 80% of the evening traffic load, the customers accessing Netflix paid both Netflix and their ISP for that traffic. Whether or not the CNBC host uses Netflix or not is irrelevant. Assuming she is a Comcast or Time Warner Cable customer, last mile congestion that could impact her enjoyment of the Internet was never an issue under DOCSIS 2, has been rendered a non-issue under the current DOCSIS 3 standard, and will remain a non issue going forward.

The traffic dispute between Comcast and Netflix only affected Netflix viewing. The CNBC host need not subsidize Netflix or anyone else. Netflix offers free peering services and equipment to any ISP that wants it. Comcast refused to take part, demanding financial compensation instead. It then raised rates on customers anyway. Her beef is with Comcast, not Netflix.

Cable Industry’s Profitable Money Party Under Threat As Net Neutrality, FCC Oversight Looms

Moffett

Moffett

Nearly 20 years after the 1996 Telecom Act deregulated much of the cable industry, the renewed threat of increased consumer protection and oversight by the Federal Communications Commission and the dwindling chance regulators will approve the merger of Comcast and Time Warner Cable has increased pessimism about guaranteed high cable industry profits on Wall Street.

Craig Moffett, senior analyst at MoffettNathanson has departed from his usual optimism about the prospects of cable industry stocks and downgraded Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Charter Communications this morning to “neutral,” suggesting the Title II reclassification of broadband could eventually lead to FCC mandated price cuts on broadband after the agency finalizes Net Neutrality regulations.

The cable industry had maintained high hopes for the Republican majority in Congress to trample Net Neutrality and allow the cable industry to continue boosting rates and introducing other pricing schemes including usage-based billing, but Moffett has grown increasingly convinced Republicans cannot override President Obama’s veto power if Congress attempts to change or end FCC oversight over the broadband business.

The cable industry has grown increasingly panicked over a new spirit of activism inside the FCC, particularly after FCC chairman Thomas Wheeler began asserting their “worst-case scenarios” for broadband speed and Net Neutrality. The National Cable and Telecommunications Association has warned Net Neutrality and Title II would stifle innovation. But Moffett fears it will more likely stifle profits.

money“It would be naïve to suggest that the implication of Title II, particularly when viewed in the context of the FCC’s repeated findings that the broadband market is non-competitive, doesn’t introduce a real risk of price regulation,” Moffett wrote. “Not tomorrow, of course, so yes, near term numbers won’t change. But terminal growth rate assumptions need to be lowered. Multiples will have to come down.”

Moffett, who had been optimistic about the likely approval of the merger deal between Comcast and Time Warner Cable is much less so today.

His earlier 70-30 odds in favor of the merger are now down to 60-40. The headwind of negative press and the reclassification of broadband to a minimum speed of 25Mbps poses considerable risk the deal will be ruled anti-competitive.

Moffett claims the cable industry was also banking on jacking up prices for Internet access, already a very profitable service, to cover reduced profits from cable television. But now the FCC will be watching.

“In the past, changes to broadband pricing would have been the natural remedy,” Moffett said. “That avenue may be no longer open.”

Philadelphia Daily News Columnist Helps Beleaguered Comcast Customers by Calling CEO’s Mom

momcast

Image from the Philadelphia Daily News

Comcast customers in Philadelphia, home to Comcast’s world headquarters, get no better treatment from the cable company than anyone else. But customers in the city of Brotherly Love now at least have a small edge on the rest of America.

A Philadelphia Daily News columnist just so happens to have the direct phone number of Comcast CEO’s 92-year old mom and is willing to use it.

“I grew up in a neighborhood where even the really bad kids could be brought back in line when someone tattled on them to their moms,” wrote columnist Ronnie Polaneczky. “That’s why I picked up the phone and called the 92-year-old mother of Comcast Corporation’s chairman and CEO Brian Roberts. We all know that Roberts’ company has been very, very bad. Comcast is in the news every other day with another irate customer’s tale of horrible treatment from the behemoth cable provider.”

Polaneczky decided to use the nuclear option after reading an email sent by Diana and Jason Airoldi, recent Philly transplants from Washington, D.C. The Airoldi’s had an appointment with Comcast to install service Dec. 23. It was now Feb. 1 and after multiple broken promises they were still waiting.

“In almost the same amount of time it took Noah to float the Ark, the country’s biggest cable company and home Internet-service provider hasn’t been able to turn on the Internet and cable in the Airoldis humble South Street apartment,” the columnist noted.

But they were by no means alone. There were also sad stories from:

  • Sandy and Charles Arnold, who have tried since Dec. 14 to get Comcast cable and Internet at their Ocean City home;
  • Bridie Gallagher, a senior citizen who has tried for months to get the overcharge on her bill fixed;
  • And Christine Yelovich, whose odyssey into the Comcast’s multiple circles of service hell should only be told with a horror-movie soundtrack playing behind it.

Answer: Call Mama

Suzanne Roberts, the 92-year old mother of Brian, accomplished more for the Airoldi family in one day than the entire Comcast juggernaut could manage in more than a month. By day’s end, the Comcast trucks descended on the neighborhood and the family was finally connected.

Unfortunately, Comcast does not offer 1-800-SUZANNE for beleaguered customers, who have developed a seething dislike for the cable company. One horror story after another, accompanied by news of PR disasters that routinely spread across the country faster than measles all testify to Comcast’s bottom of the barrel customer ranking as among the most hated companies in America.

comcast service cartoonEven PR damage control marketing experts now consider Comcast hopeless.

“The stories that come out about them are just unbelievable in terms of the torture – not just bad service, but torture – they inflict on customers,” said Chris Malone, managing partner of Fidelum Partners in Newtown Square, a specialist in fixing the reputations of companies that shoot themselves in the proverbial foot. “I feel quite confident that if their services were offered more broadly, their ranking would be much lower.”

Malone told Polaneczky the reason more Americans hate Comcast than BP — the company that threatened the Gulf of Mexico’s entire ecosystem after recklessly allowing more than 200 million gallons of oil to spill and stain the beaches from Louisiana to Florida — is the cable company’s relentless greed.

‘At the root of Comcast’s problem,’ Malone says, is that ‘the company is focused on maximizing financial benefits at the expense of its customers and employees,’ who know that “the company does not have their best interests in mind.”

Even Comcast’s new customer service czar, Charlie Herrin — head of “customer experience,” hired to “ensure that we are delighting our customers at each touch point,” has waved the white flag, seemingly admitting the company is an unmitigated mess.

Despite annual commitments from Comcast management starting in 2007 that Comcast was “redoubling” its efforts at improving customer service, the pesky fact that twice nothing is still nothing left Herrin sheepishly lowering expectations:

“In fact,” Herrin said, “it may take a few years before we can honestly say that a great customer experience is something we’re known for.”

A few years?

polaneczky1

Polaneczky

These facts should be penetrating the offices of every state and federal regulator contemplating the public interest benefits of approving a merger deal between Comcast and Time Warner Cable. Sweeping aside the Comcast-ghostwritten letters non-profit, civil rights, and political groups have sent to regulators (while running to the bank to cash Comcast’s checks), the columnist for the Daily News is scratching his head pondering why anyone would even think of letting the bad become bigger to get even worse.

“If Comcast is badly serving so many customers now, why should it be allowed the opportunity to badly serve millions more?,” she asked. “After my column ran, I got a call from Jeff Alexander, the regional spokesman for Comcast’s local operations. He apologized for what had happened to the Airoldis and invited me to visit some of Comcast’s shiny new retail stores, where customers can pay bills, return cable boxes and such. ‘Sure,’ I said, to be agreeable. But honestly, who cares?”

The most useful thing Polaneczky got from Alexander was his direct e-mail address with an invitation to forward complaints to his personal attention to resolve. So why not use it?

“Email me ([email protected]) about your Comcast problems,” Polaneczky wrote. “Detail the ways the company has been torturing you, and I will pass your stories along to Alexander, who seems like a very nice man. I can’t guarantee results. Lord knows your complaints have been cheerfully heard then ignored before. But I can promise that if Alexander doesn’t resolve your problems, I’m calling Mama Roberts again. I have her number on speed-dial.”

Perhaps Mama should come out of retirement and take on the job Perrin seems be ready to quit. It probably wouldn’t take “years” to see improvements if the CEO’s mom carried a big stick around Comcast’s Philadelphia headquarters. She should start in her son’s executive suite.

An Ode to Comcast (Composed While Waiting for the Cable Guy)

Phillip Dampier February 10, 2015 Comcast/Xfinity, Consumer News No Comments

comcast gun

“An Ode To Comcast”
(By Joel Walden)

Oh, Comcast, how you keep my life
From being dull and stable.
I called you several weeks ago
For some internet and cable.

Quicker than molasses
On a brisk December day,
You sent your guy, Armando,
To, eventually, come my way.

Heroically, he strode on in,
Strapped on his carpet booties.
And off he marched, attending
To his internetly duties.

But sadly, he revealed, my dreams
would not unfold as planned.
“Your cable’s all chopped up, you see,
It’s right here in my hand!”

“We’ll send another guy right away.
And in two weeks or more,
Between the hours of noon and eight
He’ll run cable to your door!”

And so the days crawled on.
All my musings went un-tweeted.
My posts went on un-posted.
My cell phone data, near depleted.

At last, the day arrives!
I rise with hopefulness and glee.
For at some unknown time today,
I’ll have internet and TV!

Shoved aside are all my meager plans,
My appointments and my tasks.
My life reduced to waiting
For that mystery hour to pass.

The hours drip and dribble by,
My fingers crossed for luck.
My eyeballs bug, and twitch, and scan,
For some dude in a Comcast truck.

The final hour strikes… then ends!
My diced up cable lay unfixed!
Dried up are all my humble dreams
Of watching YouTube and Netflix!

Enraged, I call, complain, and whine,
As manly as I’m able.
But no pleas, demands, nor whimpering
Would avail me any cable.

I didn’t understand
the service agent’s explanation.
Her foreign accent, while exotic,
Only brought on more frustration.

Something about the cable line
Was too close to a bog,
Or the installer’s shovel was all digital
And all my dirt was analog.

Whatever was the cause,
I sat in impotent defeat.
Doomed to spend forever
Bereft of “likes” or “tweets”.

Perhaps I’d wander through the wild,
Wrap my feet in beaver pelts,
Unable to Google poison ivy,
I’d live with painful bottom welts.

But then, a notion dawned on me
That sent my spirits soaring!
Maybe Comcast treated me this way
To keep my life from being boring!

Maybe all their flops and failures
Were of a grand design
To take away predictability
And free up all my time!

Such incompetence brings whimsy!
Must our lives be so concrete?
Perhaps they’ll string up proper cables?
Or perhaps piñatas filled with meat!

So let us not dwell endlessly
On how much Comcast sucks…
Their neglect and lazy service,
And their non-arriving trucks.

Their apathy’s intentional,
So don’t get mad or nervous.
Just go on and grab those ankles,
It’s all part of that Comcast service!

Wall Street Turning Against Comcast-Time Warner Merger: “We Believe It Will Be Blocked”

Greenfield

Greenfield

An important Wall Street analyst has publicly written what many have thought offline for the past six months — the chances of regulators approving a merger of Comcast and Time Warner Cable are growing less and less each day that passes.

Rich Greenfield from BTIG Research has grown increasingly pessimistic about the odds of Comcast winning approval of its effort to buy Time Warner Cable.

Despite the unified view from the executive suites of both cable companies that the merger is a done-deal just waiting for pro forma paperwork to get handled by the FCC and Department of Justice, Greenfield has seen enough evidence to declare “the tide has turned against the cable monopoly in the past 12 months,” and now places the odds of a merger approval at 30 percent or less.

“Since we realized the inevitability of Title II regulation of broadband in December 2014, we have grown increasingly concerned that Comcast and Time Warner Cable will not be allowed to merge,” Greenfield wrote.

The claim from both cable companies that since Comcast and Time Warner Cable do not directly compete with each other, there in no basis on which the government could block the transaction, may become a moot point.

There are three factors that Greenfield believes will likely deliver a death-blow to the deal:

  • Monopsony Power
  • Broadband Market Share & Control
  • Aftershocks from the Net Neutrality Debate

btigMonopsony power is wielded when one very large buyer of a product or service becomes so important to the seller, it can dictate its own terms and win deals that no other competitor can secure for itself.

Comcast is already the nation’s largest cable operator. Time Warner Cable is second largest. One would have to combine most of the rest of the nation’s cable companies to create a force equally important to cable programming networks.

As Stop the Cap! testified last summer before the Public Service Commission in New York, allowing a merger of Comcast and Time Warner Cable would secure the combined cable company volume discounts on cable programming that no other competitor could negotiate for itself. That would deter competition by preventing start-ups from entering the cable television marketplace because they would be at a severe disadvantage with higher wholesale programming expenses that would probably make their retail prices uncompetitive.

Even worse, large national cable programming distributors could dictate terms on what kinds of programming was available.

comcastbuy_400_241The FCC recognized the danger of monopsony market power and in the 1990s set a 30% maximum market share limit on the number of video customers one company could control nationally. That number was set slightly above the national market share held by the largest cable company at the time — first known as TCI, then AT&T Broadband, and today Comcast. Comcast sued the FCC claiming the cap was unconstitutional and won twice – first in 2001 when a federal court dismissed the rule as arbitrary and again in 2009 when it threw out the FCC’s revised effort.

Comcast itself recognized the 30% cap as an important bellwether for regulators watching the concentration of market power through mergers and acquisitions. When it agreed to buy Time Warner Cable, it volunteered to spin-off enough customers of the combined company to stay under the 30% (now voluntary) cap.

Greenfield argues the importance of concentration in the video programming marketplace has been overtaken by concerns about broadband.

“While Comcast tried to steer the government to evaluate the Time Warner deal on the old paradigm of video subscriber share, it is increasingly clear that DOJ and FCC approval/denial will come down to how they view the competitive landscape of broadband and whether greater broadband market share serves the public interest,” Greenfield wrote.

comcast whoppersIf the Comcast merger deal ultimately fails, the company may have only itself to blame.

Last year Comcast faced intense scrutiny over its interconnection agreements with companies that handle traffic for large content producers like Netflix. Comcast customers faced a deterioration in Netflix streaming quality after Comcast refused to upgrade certain connections to keep up with growing demand. Netflix was eventually forced to establish a direct paid connection agreement with the cable operator, despite the fact Netflix offers cable operators free equipment and connections for just that purpose.

That event poured gasoline on the smoldering debate over Net Neutrality and helped fuel support for a strong Open Internet policy that would give the FCC authority to check connection agreements and ban paid online fast lanes.

Seeing how Comcast affected broadband service for millions of subscribers across dozens of states could shift the debate away from any local impacts of the merger and refocus it on how many broadband customers across the country a single company should manage.

Comcast will control 50% or more of the national broadband market when applying the FCC’s newly defined definition of broadband: 25/3Mbps.

That rings antitrust and anticompetitive alarm bells for any regulator.

Greenfield notes that changing the definition of broadband will dramatically reshape market share. It will nearly eliminate DSL as a suitable competitor and leave Americans with a choice between cable broadband and Verizon FiOS, community owned fiber networks, Google, and a small part of AT&T’s U-verse footprint. If those competitors don’t exist in your community, you will have no choice at all.

cap comcastEven Comcast admits cable broadband enjoys a near-monopoly at 25/3Mbps speeds. controlling 89.7% of the market as of December 2013.

“If regulators take the ‘national’ approach to evaluating broadband competition, the FCC’s redefinition would appear to put the deal in even greater jeopardy,” Greenfield writes. “Beyond the market share of existing subscribers, the larger issue is availability.  Whether or not a current subscriber takes 25/3Mbps or better, the far more relevant question is if a consumer wanted that level of speed do they have a choice beyond their local cable operator?  As of year-end 2013, Comcast’s own filing illustrates that in 63% of their footprint post-Time Warner Cable, they were the only consumer choice for 25 Mbps broadband (we suspect even higher now).”

“With Comcast’s scale both before and especially after the Time Warner Cable transaction, they become ‘the only way’ for a majority of Americans to receive content/programming that requires a robust broadband connection,” Greenfield warned.

Even worse, to protect its video business, a super-sized Comcast will be tempted to introduce usage caps that will deliver a built-in advantage to its own services.

“Over time, the fear is that Comcast will favor its own IP-delivered video services versus third parties, similar to how it is able to offer Comcast IP-based video services as a ‘managed’ service that does not count against bandwidth caps, while third-party video services that look similar count against bandwidth caps,” he wrote. “The natural inclination will be for [Comcast] to protect their business (think usage based caps that only apply to outsiders, peering/interconnection fees, etc.)”

“With the overlay of the populist uprising driving government policy, it is hard to imagine how regulators could approve the Comcast Time Warner Cable transaction at this point,” Greenfield concludes. “Comcast continues to try to get the government to look to the past to get its deal approved.  But the framework is about not only what is current, but what the future will look like – especially in a rapidly changing broadband world.”

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