You’d be surprised what your cable and Internet provider is up to when you’re not paying attention. For Comcast subscribers, it may feel like you’re constantly fighting with the company’s famously awful customer service, wondering why your service is being throttled, and trying to get answers as to when or why your local infrastructure is never updated. It turns out, The Consumerist’s Worst Company In America for 2014 has been hard at work working over elected officials, rather than addressing the needs of customers.
But such is the luxury when you reign over a pseudo-monopoly, as in Comcast’s case, in which many customers aren’t afforded an alternative because of where they live. And as we know, Comcast is trying to increase its power share over the country by trying to merge with another of America’s largest cable and Internet providers, Time Warner Cable.
There are some obvious concerns when it comes to the proposed Comcast-TWC merger, as it would create a juggernaut of a company that almost no one would be able to compete with. With such a giant, monopolistic behemoth free to take over America’s cable and Internet industry nearly unabated, issues like consumer welfare and stifled innovation are clear concerns. But its this proposed merger that has birthed the most recent and perhaps the most outrageous of Comcast’s abuses of power.
The Verge reports that politicians are apparently expressing their support for the Comcast-TWC merger by sending letters to the FCC, which is the governmental body that presides over the telecom industry, and which will ultimately make the call on the mega-merger. The interesting part? The letters are ghost-written by Comcast themselves, in an attempt to feign public support for its monopolistic aspirations. The Verge says that through a public record’s request, it was found that Jere Wood, the mayor of Roswell, Ga., sent the FCC a letter that heaped praise on the company.
“When Comcast makes a promise to act, it is comforting to know that they will always follow through,” the letter read. “Our residents are happy with the services it has provided and continues to provide each day,” it continued, and “this is the type of attitude that makes Roswell proud to be involved with such a company.”
Words like those unsurprisingly raised some red flags, and it has become clear that the words contained in the letter were not that of mayor Wood, but rather of a public relations executive at Comcast. Essentially, Wood’s office found it fitting to take a manufactured Comcast PR document, print the words on the city’s official letterhead, and send it off to the FCC, according to The Verge.
Wood wasn’t the only public official to do so, either. Oregon’s secretary of state Kate Brown has also been under the microscope for a similar allegation. To the shock of no one, Comcast has been a contributor to the campaigns of officials like Brown, who accepted nearly $10,000 from the company for her campaigns, according to The Oregonian.
These two examples of politicians sticking up for Comcast, despite the obvious vitriol for the company among the public, is likely the effect of the company’s deep pockets and heavy lobbying efforts. Comcast was the ninth-largest special-interest group in the country during 2014 in terms of lobbying, dolling out $16.97 million in lobbying expenses, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
For that kind of spending, Comcast obviously expects results, and phony showings of support for its merger with Time Warner Cable is probably just a part of that. But even with the enormous amount of money spent on lobbying and buying feigned support from elected officials, it may not be enough to get their merger past regulators. Evidently, some people on Capitol Hill have woken up to the fact that the merger may not actually be in the best interests of the public, who’s interests organizations like the FCC are charged with looking after.
Gizmodo says that the interest of consumers is only one aspect of the merger that has regulators taking a more critical eye than before, with another being that the Department of Justice could view it as being anti-competitive, and thus in violation of antitrust laws. But that doesn’t mean that the merger won’t pass, it just means that Comcast and Time Warner Cable are having a harder time than they thought they would.
As we have seen, Comcast certainly isn’t above playing dirty to get its way. We’ll have to wait for the FCC’s ultimate decision to see if all of those millions in lobbying — and the energy spent writing fake letters of support for itself — were worth it.