#Comcast

Adrianne Jeffries on why Comcast customer service reps are such pushy creeps:

Metrics-obsessed reps are therefore highly motivated to get every customer to not only continue service, but keep the same number of subscriptions — phone, internet, Xfinity — or add more. Essentially, these reps are trying to reach a predetermined outcome in the call, and they’re trying to do it in under 11 minutes. Comcast has turned its customer service reps into sales reps.

"Comcast likes to pretend to be "customer first," txmadison writes. "But then they turn around and provide an entire incentive structure that is decidedly NOT customer first."

No surprise there. Not only does Comcast not find such behavior problematic, they actually very directly encourage it.

But please, by all means let Comcast buy Time Warner Cable to ensure even more customers get such service.

Both infuriating and in a way, hilarious. The crazy thing is that not only have many of us had equally bad (though different) experiences with Comcast, many of us with loud microphones have as well, like Ryan Block here. And yet, Comcast keeps growing and sucking up all in its path.

Comcast undoubtedly would say that’s because our incidents are isolated and people love Comcast. That, of course, is bullshit. It’s because there is little-to-no competition in the market. In many places, if you want television and/or internet, you need to sign up for Comcast. And Comcast buying Time Warner Cable is only going to make that worse. 

Great interview by Brad Stone of SoftBank founder and CEO Masayoshi Son. Couple things stick out:

The wireless industry is a duopoly and the wired broadband is basically a single big player [Comcast]. If those guys set net neutrality rules, everybody has to follow it. They are all slaves of the monopolist or the duopolist.

But I thought Comcast said it was eating its competition to help the consumers!

Also interesting:

I’d say in five years, if I had to bet on one technology company other than Apple and Samsung, it would be Xiaomi.

Can’t say I disagree. Remember, Son is the guy who bet big very early on Alibaba. That stake is now worth $56 billion.

Meg James on Comcast Chairman and CEO Brian Roberts:

Roberts believes that the Time Warner Cable acquisition would serve the public interest.

The deal, he said, would not restrict competition because Comcast and Time Warner Cable operate in separate regions. L.A. residents could still subscribe to DirecTV, Dish Network, AT&T or Verizon. What’s more, he believes that Comcast would provide a higher level of service. The company has spent billions of dollars each year to upgrade its network. It also leads the cable industry in services and technological features that it offers viewers.

It’s hard to reconcile the “higher level of service” rhetoric with reality

(Headline reference.)

If the Comcast and Time Warner Cable merger is approved, the combined company’s footprint will pass over 60 percent of U.S. broadband households, after the proposed divestiture, with most of those homes having Comcast as the only option for truly high-speed broadband. As DSL fades in favor of cable Internet, Comcast could control high-speed broadband to the majority of American homes. Comcast is already dominant enough to be able to capture unprecedented fees from transit providers and services such as Netflix. The combined company would possess even more anti- competitive leverage to charge arbitrary interconnection tolls for access to their customers. For this reason, Netflix opposes this merger.
Netflix’s statement in their shareholder letter on the proposed Comcast/Time Warner Cable merger.

Shalini Ramachandran, Daisuke Wakabayashi, and Amol Sharma:

Apple has had discussions since at least mid-2012 with Time Warner Cable Inc., the No. 2 operator, people familiar with the matter said. Those talks, known internally at Time Warner Cable as “Project Jupiter,” came to a standstill when the cable operator became a takeover target, the people said. Comcast in February agreed to acquire Time Warner Cable for $45 billion, a deal regulators are reviewing that would give Comcast a total of 30 million U.S. customers, after proposed divestitures.

So, of course Apple is now talking with Comcast. Anyone could have predicted that (and did!). What choice do they have? None, now.

And, of course:

Apple and Comcast aren’t close to an agreement, said one person familiar with the talks.

I’m shocked — SHOCKED — that the Comcast/Time Warner Cable deal has the potential to screw users in more ways than one.

Dan Rayburn:

Today’s news is very simple to understand. Netflix decided it made sense to pay Comcast for every port they use to connect to Comcast’s network, like many other content owners and network providers have done. This is how the Internet works, and it’s not about providing better access for one content owner over another, it simply comes down to Netflix making a business decision that it makes sense for them to deliver their content directly to Comcast, instead of through a third party. Tied into Netflix’s decision is the fact that Comcast guarantees a certain level of quality to Netflix, via their SLA, which could be much better than Netflix was getting from a transit provider. While I don’t know the price Comcast is charging Netflix, I can guarantee you it’s at the fair market price for transit in the market today and Comcast is not overcharging Netflix like some have implied. Many are quick to want to argue that Netflix should not have to pay Comcast anything, but they are missing the point that Netflix is already paying someone who connects with Comcast. It’s not a new cost to them.

While this may be a tempest-in-a-teapot situation, I assume most people are freaking out here because of this news mixed with the proposed Time Warner Cable acquisition. And I’m fine with that because people should be freaking out about the latter, even if not the former.

Michael J. De La Merced and Bill Carter talking to Comcast CEO Brian Roberts:

Mr. Roberts recalled that when Bill Gates invested $1 billion in his company in 1997, the Microsoft billionaire told him that data would be a bigger business than video one day.

“I didn’t know what he was talking about then, but he was right,” Mr. Roberts said.

Three things:

1) Bill Gates invested $1 billion into Comcast in 1997?! Yep. He did. (That $1 billion gave Microsoft an 11.5% stake in Comcast at the time. That stake would be worth something like $15 billion today, but the company sold the stake in 2008.)

2) The Comcast investment was right before Gates invested $150 million into Apple, seemingly on its deathbed.

3) Bill Gates is a genius with impeccable timing.

David Carr on the proposed Comcast/Time Warner Cable deal:

Foremost, Comcast already has a huge regulatory win in the bank. Its proposed acquisition of NBCUniversal in 2009 was met with abundant skepticism, with consumer advocates contending that control over both so much content and distribution gave it too much market power. The company maneuvered its way past those hurdles and won approval by making some concessions and commitments, and it is in an even stronger position today.

Consider that one of the Federal Communications Commission regulators who approved the NBCUniversal deal, Meredith Attwell Baker, now works for Comcast as a lobbyist. Since that deal, there has been a change in leadership at the commission, and it is now run by Tom Wheeler, who was previously a chief lobbyist for the cable industry. (Comcast is among the biggest spenders on lobbying, having written checks for $18 million in 2013 alone.)

The deck is absolutely stacked for this deal to happen. Which is, of course, total bullshit. Continues Carr:

Cable is a necessary evil that works best when we can exercise consumer choice. I live in northern New Jersey and used to be a Comcast customer — I dumped it after one of its technicians pointed to the cable running through the trees and said I might not have a great connection when the wind was blowing. I switched to Verizon FiOS’s fiber-optic service and have been very happy since. (Not cheap, but it works.) When, you might ask, will the fiber-optic future arrive at your house? How about never? Does never sound good?

No, it does not. But much of the cable market has already been divided up — as the executives behind the merger noted, Time Warner and Comcast do not overlap in any markets, and Verizon has previously agreed not to expand. Comcast, which will now have less competition, will have less motivation to invest in building out infrastructure like fiber-optic networks at the expense of its shareholders.

It’s not so much that Comcast is stifling some existing competition here — it’s that they’re ensuring there will never be any competition to speak of. And even if this monopolist is benevolent, they’ll have no true incentive to push innovation forward. And that hurts us all in so many more ways than just our checkbooks.

Yankees To Buy Red Sox

True story: this evening, I found myself at a Comcast event. I drank the free booze. Had some hors d’oeuvres. Watched some 4K Super Ultra HD.1 Grand old regular night.

Nope.

Awkward.

Here’s the thing: the people who work at Comcast all seem nice enough. They are human beings after all. And I’d never begrudge anyone from earning a living. But Comcast as an entity is like a horror story of regulation gone bad.

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Marvin Ammori:

It looks like we’ll end up where AT&T initially began: a false compromise.

The implications of such a decision would be profound. Web and mobile companies will live or die not on the merits of their technology and design, but on the deals they can strike with AT&T, Verizon, Comcast, and others. This means large phone and cable companies will be able to “shakedown” startups and established companies in every sector, requiring payment for reliable service. In fact, during the oral argument in the current case, Verizon’s lawyer said, “I’m authorized to state from my client today that but for these [FCC] rules we would be exploring those types of arrangements.”

Wait, it gets even worse. Pricing isn’t even a necessary forcing factor. Once the court voids the nondiscrimination rule, AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast will be able to deliver some sites and services more quickly and reliably than others for any reason. Whim. Envy. Ignorance. Competition. Vengeance. Whatever. Or, no reason at all.

Shady new world. Let’s just pray this doesn’t come to pass.

David Carr spoke with law professor Susan Crawford about her new book about the telecom industry:

In a recent conversation, she explained that wired and wireless connections, building blocks of modern life, are now essentially controlled by four companies. Comcast and Time Warner have a complete lock on broadband in the markets they control, covering some 50 million American homes, while Verizon and AT&T own 64 percent of cellphone service. Don’t get her started on the Comcast-NBCUniversal merger unless you have some time on your hands.

“They have acted in parallel to exclude competitors and used every lever they had to gain control over their markets. My whole book is essentially an argument to buy stock in cable companies,” she said with a laugh.

Her main argument is not that these giant companies are evil, but rather that they’ve perfected the art of dominating their industries, with the government doing little to stop it — which is ultimately going to hurt us all.

Alistair Barr and Liana B. Baker of Reuters spoke with HBO CEO Richard Plepler at an event last night (which, incidentally, I attended as well):

Customers could pay $50 a month for their broadband Internet and an extra $10 or $15 for HBO to be packaged in with that service, for a total of $60 or $65 per month, Plepler explained.

"We would have to make the math work," he added.

That’s one of the first promising things out of the mouth of HBO regarding HBO Go in a while. It’s not perfect, but I’d settle for it (since I obviously have to pay for broadband anyway).

The question in my mind is if the cable companies would go for it. I pay Comcast for my internet but do not have cable. Would they allow me to pay an extra $15 for HBO Go access even though they know I could get cable as well and simply choose not to? You’d hope so, but they must know that’s a very slippery slope.

Either way, they may be fucked. But at least HBO is finally on the right path of thinking.