Comcast, the Koch Brothers, and corporate consolidation

Comcast, the largest US cable company, is in the news these days for planning to merge with the second largest US cable company.

As David Hiltbrand writes in “Many questions raised about cable merger,” Philadelphia Inquirer, February 14, 2014:

So, is the proposed $45.2 million megamerger of Comcast Corp. and Time Warner Cable a good deal?

Depends on whose cable is being spliced….

Comcast sure is good at splicing. It already absorbed NBCUniversal (itself a merger baby) in 2011. Enough is enough, already too much, according to “Former FCC commissioner calls Comcast-TWC merger a terrible idea” by Chris Welch, The Verge, 2/14/14.

Even if further consolidation, moving in the direction of monopoly, is not in consumers’ interest, one thing you can bet is that the merger would be good for the Koch Brothers and their political allies.

You could say that just on general principles, since the 1% of megacorporations are increasingly intertwined, both economically and politically.

But what made me think about it concretely was “The Koch Brothers Left a Confidential Document at Their Donor Conference: A list of one-on-one meetings between VIP donors and the Kochs and their operatives offers a revealing look into their mighty political machine” by Andy Kroll and Daniel Schulman, Mother Jones, 2/5/14. The list of big “confidential” donors who earned insider meetings with the Kochs and other Americans for Prosperity insiders includes:

Tina and Craig Snider: They are the children of Ed Snider, a founding contributor of the Ayn Rand Institute and chairman of Comcast Spectacor, a sports and entertainment company that owns the Philadelphia Flyers.

It always intrigues me that plutocratic American right-wingers feel such an affection for an anarchistic Russian reason-worshiping Jewish atheist, but there it is, one more subject for future inquiry.

According to Wikipedia, “Comcast Spectacor“:

The company was formed in 1974 by Flyers founder and chairman Ed Snider as Spectacor, the parent company of both the Flyers and the Spectrum. Snider had been instrumental in getting the Spectrum built in 1967, and assumed control of the arena in 1971. He sold a 63% stake in Spectacor to Comcast in 1996, remaining the renamed Comcast Spectacor’s chairman.

Owner(s): Ed Snider (37%) Comcast (63%)
Parent: Comcast
Subsidiaries: Philadelphia Flyers, Global Spectrum, Ovations Food Services, Paciolan, New Era Tickets, Front Row Marketing Services, Wells Fargo Center, Flyers Skate Zone, Paciolan

Comcast Spectacors’ web site is a real lesson in the concentration of economic power in this country:

Comcast Corporation (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) (www.comcast.com) is one of the nation’s leading providers of entertainment, information and communications products and services. Comcast is principally involved in the operation of cable systems through Comcast Cable and in the development, production and distribution of entertainment, news, sports and other content for global audiences through NBCUniversal. Comcast Cable is one of the nation’s largest video, high-speed Internet and phone providers to residential and business customers. Comcast is the majority owner and manager of NBCUniversal, which owns and operates entertainment and news cable networks, the NBC and Telemundo broadcast networks, local television station groups, television production operations, a major motion picture company and theme parks.

On and on the concentration goes, moving our “free economy” toward a handful of companies in every endeavor, all run by and enriching the same sorts of people, for whom even “the 1%” is too broad a label.

The Koch Party’s (the term is the New York Times’s) chief front group, Americans for Prosperity, supports Comcast’s campaign on its web site:

Network or “Net” Neutrality regulations ban Internet Service Providers
(ISPs), such as Comcast and Verizon, from managing their networks by
prioritizing certain web traffic. The main issue lies in whether or not ISPs
should be permitted to exercise data management – when an ISP interferes
with a certain kind of Internet traffic, also known as “traffic shaping.”

That’s a big issue to the right wing: they want the internet service providers to be able to charge customers differential fees for different types of service, and Comcast is in the center of it.

And the non-right-wing is hoping to maintain the status quo–partly out of fear that if net neutrality perishes, differential pricing of internet content would soon follow. From Alex Byers, “Comcast merger under fire,” Politico, 2/13/14:

“Where we’re really concerned is in the ability for a much bigger Comcast to give even more preferential treatment to the content and networks it owns through its purchase of NBC Universal,” said Stephanie Chen, telecommunications policy director at The Greenlining Institute. “This merger would make a tough situation even tougher for smaller content providers, especially minority-owned and -produced content.”

The net neutrality quarrel began in 2010 “after a federal appeals court ruled … that the FCC had no legal authority to punish Comcast for slowing down BitTorrent traffic on its network. The FCC officially censured Comcast for violating its Net neutrality principles” (from “Americans For Prosperity Ad Spreads Lie That The FCC Wants To ‘Take Over The Internet,'” Political Correction: A Project of Media Matters Action Network, 2/19/10.

The FCC then fought back with a further strategy to restrain the Comcasts of the world, and the quarrel is still going on.

And what a surprise, Comcast and its peers are funding secret-member groups to carry out their program, which of course is the Koch program. From “‘Dark money’ groups fueled by cable industry: Americans for Prosperity, Americans for Tax Reform among beneficiaries, new disclosure shows” by Julie Patel, The Center for Public Integrity, 11/20/13:

The U.S. cable industry’s largest trade association last year helped bankroll several groups that spent millions of dollars in attempts to defeat President Barack Obama, new disclosures indicate….

The groups receiving National Cable & Telecommunications Association money include:

Americans for Prosperity, which received $50,000, spent $33.5 million opposing Obama during the 2012 election cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan group that tracks campaign spending. Americans for Prosperity often supports Tea Party causes and candidates and is the main political arm of billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch. As the Center reported Thursday, the group spent a staggering $122 million overall in 2012….

…Among the 173 members listed on its website are notable media entities such as Cablevision Systems Corp., Comcast Corporation, C-SPAN, Discovery Communications Inc., Disney Media Networks, Fox Networks Group, Home Box Office, NBC Universal, Showtime Networks, Time Warner Cable and Turner Cable Networks…..

It’s true, as some point out, that we all have free will and therefore, theoretically, could stop patronizing the Comcast-Koch cartel. But soon, that will be like saying: if you want to exercise your free will, then move to your cabin in the woods and mind your own business.

Many of us think that government exists to allow society to remain cohesive and beneficial for its members. If that’s what you think, you’re not a friend of Comcast, the Koch Brothers, and corporate consolidation.

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About politicswestchesterview

Nathaniel regards himself as a progressive Democrat who sees a serious need to involve more Americans in the political process if we are to rise to Ben Franklin's challenge "A republic, madam, if you can keep it," after a passerby asked him what form of government the founders had chosen. This blog gives my views and background information on the local, state, and national political scenes. My career in higher education was mainly in the areas of international studies, foreign languages, and student advising, most recently at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, from which I retired in 2006. I have lived in West Chester since 1986.
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