10 Even Worse Things You Don’t Know About Comcast’s Proposed Merger With Time Warner
Photo Credit: Shutterstock, Copyright Lichtmeister
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Talk about revenge of the C students! The nation’s biggest telecom company, Comcast, which took over NBCUniversal a year ago, wants to buy the second biggest company, Time-Warner Cable, to create an empire of 30-million subscribers. That’s a third of all American homes with cable for its TV, internet service and telephones.
The merger has to be approved by federal regulators as being in the public interest and not a monopoly. How Comcast, the world’s largest media company and one of America’s most reviled companies threads that needle will be a sight to behold. Here are 10 things about its record—on customer service, profiteering, lobbying and sky-high political connections—that you may not know.
1. Worst Company In America Lists. It’s bad enough that both Comcast and Time-Warner are regularly cited on “worst company” lists and are at the bottom of consumer surveys for subscription television services. Consumerist, which ranked it the third worst company in 2013, has a string of reports describing the numerous ways that Comcast rips off subscribers—overpromising and underdelivering—including CEO Brian Roberts’s reply last fall blaming his customers for Comcast’s bad reputation, saying that it is noticed only because a giant company like his gets lots and lots of service calls.
2. Local Cable Already Is A Monopoly. As most cable users know, cable companies already are a monopoly. There is no alternative provider offering the mix of TV, internet and phone in most locales. The nation’s business press thinks that’s fine and has lauded Comcast—such as this Forbes article—for succeeding “by providing less customer service.” Industry spin like that has lead to a phenomenon rarely seen in online journalism: torrents of incredibly detailed comments describing just how much people despise Comcast and wish there was competition for telecom services.
“Comcast is one of the worst companies in this country,” replied Sandi D to that Forbes piece, saying how she spent nine weeks to resolve issues and only got a response after filing a formal complaint with the Better Business Bureau. Another writer, Allawash, was billed for data speeds that Comcast’s equipment wouldn’t deliver, telling Forbes, “They are relying on customer’s lack of knowledge to nickel and dime them.” Commenter Craig Oren said, “Half of the [customer service] representatives cannot speak English fluently.” Other websites have dozens and dozens of comments following Comcast articles with examples detailing their lousy experiences with the service, tech support and billing.
3. Their Pricing Is Predatory And Will Become Worse. Like big banks, Comcast is always looking for new fees and charges to top off its pricey monthly cost—which is four times as expensive as Europe. Last November, it announced a new $1.50 “broadcast TV fee” would begin in 2014 in addition to the monthly rate, Consumerist reported. “Others, like AT&T and Charter have similar tack-on fees, but unlike those companies, which have not benefitted in any way from increased retransmission fees charged by broadcasters, Comcast also happens to own NBC,” it said, making the point that Comcast already owns much of the content—such as coverage of the Olympics—that it’s charging double for.
What will customers receive for this fee? According to TechDirt.com, more commercials, especially when people are watching reruns of old TV series. “Basically, Comcast wants to flip the current advertising system upsides-down and have older episodes of primetime shows carrying the same commercial load as the most recent episode,” it reported. These are examples of why a deal giving Comcast—already America’s biggest cable company and internet-service provider—more monopoly power is bad for the public.
4. Comcast’s Contempt for Customers Is More Widespread. It’s astounding to read what Comcast executives have said about how they treat customers. Matt Strauss, senior vice-president of video services, boasted to The New York Post in December that their on-demand video service system disables fast-forwarding through commercials, which frustrates users but earns Comcast billions more from ad sales. In another example of its greed trumping the video viewers’ experience, The Wall Street Journal reports that it is talking to Netflix about making its shows available to subscribers, but Comcast won’t give Netflix access to the best-quality video streaming. “Netflix believes the technology is critical,” the Journal reported last October, adding, “No deal is imminent.”