You are not logged in. LOG IN NOW >

First POST: Today's Big Disaster

BY Micah L. Sifry | Thursday, February 13 2014

Today's Big Disaster

  • The big news this morning is cable giant Comcast's $44 billion bid to gobble up the number two giant Time Warner Cable, creating a behemoth that would utterly dominate the cable AND Internet service business in America.

  • "Through canny skill, dogged persistence, and political heft, Comcast has put itself in a position to squeeze all the other players," writes Harvard Law Professor Susan Crawford in her seminal book Captive Audience: The Telecom Industry and Monopoly Power in the New Gilded Age. From page 68:

    Everyone, media conglomerates and small cable companies alike, has to work with Comcast on its terms. This allows Comcast to reap the rewards of dominance in the form of ever-increasing prices for data access and content in the twenty-first century. Comcast got where it is today through clever financing strategies, clustering of its operations to take advantage of scale economies, careful and constant cost cutting, the quick embrace of new technology, and shrewd investments in content, all within an environment of regulatory passivity. The idea of 'common carriage,' the centerpiece of public communications policy for most of the twentieth century, has ceased to be a credible threat to Comcast's domination. The result: wide moats around an infrastructure business that cannon be crossed by competitors, and ever increasing power and profits. In a very real sense, Comcast now owns the Internet in America. [Emphasis added]

  • Craig Aaron of Free Press attacked the proposed deal, saying it "would be a disaster for consumers and must be stopped." John Bergmayer of Public Knowledge said, "Comcast cannot be allowed to purchase Time Warner Cable. Antitrust authorities and the FCC must stop it."

  • BoingBoing's xeni Jardin writes, "Brace yourselves, internet" and rounds up the early critical reactions from media observers Glenn Fleishman, Brain Stelter and others.

  • Astonishingly, Re/Code's Peter Kafka has a blase attitude about the proposed deal. "It's hard to see much changing for consumers any time soon," he comments. That is true, but only if you think ever rising prices and lousy, below-world-class service is ok for consumers.

  • Comcast's CEO Brian Roberts went on CNBC this morning to claim that the proposed deal would be "pro-competitive" and "pro-consumer," since Comcast and Time Warner's customer bases didn't overlap. While true, that is because for years the two companies have been allowed by regulators to effectively divide up the national market, avoiding competition with each other.

  • As Matthew Yglesias points out in Slate, the deal would take cable competition "from zero to double zero."

In other news around the web:

  • Set aside some time today to read Zeynep Tufekci's tour-de-force essay in Medium on the meaning of everything from Turkey's social media-powered protest movement to the Obama campaign's use of data to hyper-target voters. Two big ideas that she emphasizes: "Resistance and surveillance: The design of today’s digital tools makes the two inseparable." And while surveillance may scare or offend us, "the state-of-the-art method for shaping ideas is not to coerce overtly but to seduce covertly, from a foundation of knowledge." That is, while state surveillance may be a worrisome form of social control, more subtle efforts to shape behavior through big data targeting of individuals could be equally, or more, dangerous for democracies.

  • As if on cue, DISH Network and DirecTV have started offering a new joint service that will enable political campaigns to target ads at specific households, Emily Schultheis and Alex Byers report for Politico. Such "addressable advertising" can insure that a particular household see a particular ad regardless of what channels they may be watching. Campaign operatives from both sides of the covert seduction political advertising business are thrilled with the news.

  • In Turkey, Carola Frediani reports for The Daily Dot, more than 2000 demonstrators hit the streets of Instanbul to protest a new Internet censorship law.

  • Dustin Volz of National Journal reports on Members of Congress who are rejecting recent testimony by Deputy Attorney General James Cole denying that the NSA may be collecting phone information of Members of Congress, even when it may have no suspicion of a connection to terrorism. Reps. Darrell Issa, Jim Sensenbrenner and Jerrold Nadler write:

    "In your testimony [before the House Judiciary Committee], you indicated that the administration would only look at call records from a member of Congress if it had a reasonable, articulable suspicion that the number was related to terrorism. That is not accurate. The NSA looks at individual numbers when it has low level, particularized suspicion, but it looks at millions more with no suspicion of wrongdoing whatsoever, some of whom may well be members of Congress."

  • Julia Angwin of ProPublica reminds us, with a stunning graphic: "You Know Who Else Collected Metadata? The Stasi."

  • Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) has filed a class action lawsuit against the NSA, seeking to stop its phone metadata collection program.

  • Marietje Schaake, a Member of the European Parliament from Holland (and longtime friend of PDM), is calling for a bigger debate in Europe aimed at safeguarding the open, multi-stakeholder model of Internet governance.

  • In case you missed it (as we did), Twitter's main account @Twitter did rewet, to its 28.8 million followers, the company's @policy account expressing the company's "proud" support for "The Day We Fight Back."

  • The EFF says "The Day We Fight Back" was as big as two Michigan stadiums, filled to capacity, with 220,000 people, "all doing the same thing at the same time--contacting Congress and demanding an end to mass surveillance."

  • Global Voices Advocacy's Netizen Report has a full round-up on all the protests around the world in tandem with "The Day We Fight Back."

  • AskThem, the new open question platform, just snagged its first response from an elected official: NYC city council member Brad Lander took on a question about affordable housing. (Full disclosure: I'm on AskThem's advisory council.)

  • Sheldon Adelson, the casino billionaire who blew at least $100 million trying to prevent President Obama from winning re-election, is now on the warpath against online gambling, Jon Ralston reports for Politico.