Why Should Chicagoans Care About (And Oppose) The Proposed Merger of Comcast and NBC?

Posted by Mitchell - July 3, 2010 (entry 651)

Comcast, the largest cable company in Chicago and nationwide, is vying to buy the NBC/ Universal media conglomerate. There are a number of reasons why Chicagoans should be concerned about this proposed buyout, why a merger would lead to poorer quality, and why Chicagoans should oppose it. Among those reasons:

* HIGHER MEDIA CONCENTRATION: Increasing media concentration fosters problems such as poorer journalism, less localism, reduced outlets and opportunities for media producers, and less independent music.

* NETWORK NEUTRALITY: Comcast has been vying for years to do away with laws requiring non-discrimination of content, or what’s called "network neutrality", without which Comcast could charge more for non-Comcast content. A major lawsuit in federal court against the FCC on network neutrality came from a complaint against Comcast.

* PUBLIC ACCESS TELEVISION: Chicago’s public access service CAN TV won a funding law change in 2004, but Comcast lobbied against it, saying it would "prove burdensome" to consumers, and won an indefinite delay. This happened even though cable costs rise far higher and more frequently than the cost of quality public access.

* COMMUNITY INTERNET: Comcast and SBC (later AT&T;) paid for two smear campaigns to block two community internet referenda in the tri-cities suburbs of Chicago in 2003 and 2004. They were able to block both referenda in close votes, but spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to do so.

* POOR DIVERSITY SCORES: Comcast has been criticized over hiring practices and TV programming that have given short shrift to communities of color. Though Comcast has offered some pro-active proposals in response to address these problems, one analyst called the proposals "crumbs".

* LABOR UNION RIGHTS: Comcast has fired labor organizers, and pays its unorganized workers far less than those in other unionized telecoms. And if Comcast buys out NBC Universal, it would lead to more job cuts.

* THE WORST CONSUMER SATISFACTION: Comcast beat out 31 other companies in the "Worst Company in America" ratings for 2010. In a noted 2005 case, one Chicago customer received a bill from Comcast calling her a "bitch dog", which led to the firing of two Comcast employees.

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