Jan 18, 2011

Comcast/NBC Merger Approved: You Should Be Afraid and Mad as Hell

By Josh Silver / huffingtonpost.com

Today, the Federal Communications Commission blessed the merger of Comcast, the nation's largest cable and residential Internet provider, with NBC-Universal. The Justice Department immediately followed suit, removing the last obstacle to the unprecedented consolidation of media and Internet power in the hands of one company. (FCC press release here)

You should be afraid and mad as hell.

The new Comcast will control an obscene number of media outlets, including the NBC broadcast network, numerous cable channels, two dozen local NBC and Telemundo stations, movie studios, online video portals, and the physical network that distributes that media content to millions of Americans through Internet and cable connections.

Comcast CEO Brian Roberts called it "a proud and exciting day for Comcast," and showered Obama's FCC and DoJ with praise.

Culmination of the deal, combined with the FCC's recent, loophole-ridden "Net Neutrality" rules, sets the table for Comcast to turn the Internet into cable television, where it has the ability to speed up its content, slow down or block its competitors such as Netflix, and hike the rates for its programming and services. We'll all end up paying more -- whether you're a Comcast subscriber or not.

More Broken Promises

The merger further squeezes what's left of independent, diverse voices from the television dial, laying waste to President Barack Obama's promise to reign in runaway media consolidation. As a candidate in June 2008, he said:

"I strongly favor diversity of ownership of outlets and protection against the excessive concentration of power in the hands of any one corporation, interest or small group. I strongly believe that all citizens should be able to receive information from the broadest range of sources."

Where's that Barack Obama today? He's on the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal announcing an executive order that will "make sure we avoid excessive, inconsistent and redundant regulation," focusing on rules that "stifle job creation and make our economy less competitive." Given the president's long list of massive compromises to corporate lobbyists during his first two years, today's gesture to Wall Street is galling.

This is the same Obama who promised to "take a backseat to no one" on Net Neutrality before applauding the FCC's AT&T-approved Internet rule. It's the same Obama who promised to provide the public option on health care and to end the massive bonuses to Wall Street titans...the list of broken promises is far longer than space allows.

And it's the same Obama who, in the same 2008 interview about media consolidation, said,

"There is a clear need in this country for the reinvigoration of antitrust enforcement. ... to step up review of merger activity and take effective action to stop or restructure those mergers that are likely to harm consumer welfare."

So much for that one, too.

President Obama is being squeezed by a corrupt Washington that is run by industry lobbyists, fake grassroots groups, massive political spending and PR machines that make the most basic public interest protections impossible to advance. But rather than tell that story, dig in, and fight like a true leader would, Obama has chosen to hire corporate-friendly advisors, compromise on the most crucial substance, and attempt to eke out weak, symbolic, half-victories gift-wrapped in flowery oratory and spin. It's a losing strategy that has become brutally transparent.

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