With The Death Of Net Neutrality & NBC Merger Conditions, Comcast Is Free To Misbehave
from the a-storm's-a'-comin' dept
Comcast has been having some massive “success” on the lobbying and policy front of late. Its lobbyists have successfully dismantled both net neutrality and privacy rules at the FCC. They’ve killed efforts to bring competition to the cable box. They’ve also successfully convinced Ajit Pai’s FCC to effectively neuter its authority over lumbering telecom monopolies, kicking all remaining authority over to an FTC that’s ill-equipped to actually hold Comcast accountable. The company has also been pushing hard to prevent states from being able to protect broadband and TV consumers either.
Given Comcast’s quickly growing monopoly over fixed-line broadband, combined with its growing international footprint in media, it shouldn’t be hard to see how we’re building a perfect vacuum of limited accountability for one of the more anti-competitive companies in America. With neither competition nor even modest regulatory oversight to constrain it, it’s not speculation to note that there’s every indication that the Comcast everybody loves to hate is poised to become notably more obnoxious with little constraining its less ethical tendencies.
Comcast’s dream scenario of no competition, and paltry state and federal oversight will soon get another gift in the expiration of the merger conditions affixed to the company’s 2011 acquisition of NBC Universal. Conditions such as offering discounted broadband, promises to avoid hamstringing Hulu’s competitive potential (Comcast is a co-owner), and restrictions on Comcast’s treatment of smaller video programmers and distributors will all soon evaporate. Sure, the government let Comcast ignore many of these with no real punishment, but many of them still helped keep Comcast’s worst habits in check.
For its part, the DOJ fired off a memo to Comcast last week stating that while the conditions expired, it would still be keeping an eye on Comcast for any potential anti-competitive behavior:
“The department retains jurisdiction to enforce the antitrust laws and takes its obligations seriously,” Makan Delrahim, head of the Justice Department’s antitrust division, wrote in the letter obtained by Bloomberg. “We would appreciate your cooperation in keeping us informed by providing the department with any plans you may have to change your policies or practices involving video programming and distribution.”
Yes, Comcast, do let us know in writing if you intend to behave anti-competitively.
Of course antitrust enforcement in this country isn’t what it used to be. The powers that helped the government break up the ma bell monopoly have been largely eroded after decades of lobbying. And the DOJ’s latest attempt to hold vertically-integrated powerhouses like AT&T in check recently fell flat on its face, thanks to said erosions locking DOJ lawyers into very specific confines of economic theory, and a comically-terrible misreading of AT&T’s anti-competitive potential (especially in the wake of the death of net neutrality) by U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon.
In short, thanks to Comcast lobbying you’ve got no net neutrality, a crippled and beholden FCC, potentially-handcuffed states (depending on how well the ISPs and Ajit Pai’s pre-emption gambit goes), and little-to-no competition in broadband (especially at faster speeds). And while Comcast will likely try and behave on the net neutrality front until the looming court case is settled, it shouldn’t be hard to see how this growing competition and accountability vacuum is, sooner or later, only likely to make America’s least liked company more obnoxious than ever.