In a move that one would readily expect from Gentleman Jim Douglas, but not from the standard bearer of the Democratic party in Vermont, Peter Shumlin has sent a letter to the FCC endorsing the mega media takeover by Comcast of Time Warner.
This, the day after a Comcast outage lasting several hours left many Vermont households with neither internet nor telephone service.
Even moderate Democrat Howard Dean’s Democracy for America has joined the Consumer’s Union and Burlington’s CCTV Center for Media & Democracy in challenging the acquisition.
This giant gulp will leave Comcast in control of 16 out of 20 top cable television markets in America, and 35-percent of all high-speed internet service in the country.
In the bad old days before corporate law got a Republican makeover, that would have been regarded as potentially a “monopoly” position; something most definitely frowned upon by the feds.
In a small market like Vermont it very definitely would represent a defacto monopoly, because the swap formula by which Comcast plans to avoid running afoul of federal anti-trust rules appears to involve moving Vermont’s Charter subscribers over to Comcast.
Thus endeth competition from the # 2 player in the Vermont market.
Why would our Democratic governor think that is a good thing? Paul Heinz of Seven Days put that question to Shumlin spokesman Sue Allen who said the following:
…Shumlin’s letter to the FCC was focused on Comcast’s “regulatory commitments in Vermont when it acquired Adelphia and its work (as one of many private providers) in bringing more choice and broadband access to Vermonters.”
However this argument seems a little weak given that basic Charter subscribers now have access to channels that are unavailable to basic Comcast subscribers, and vice-versa.
Even though their markets don’t cross in Vermont, I know of at least one Charter subscriber who will not be pleased to lose some arts programming she now enjoys with a basic cable subscription. She will most certainly regard the “choice” of only Comcast as a pretty raw deal.
Remember when Bernie Sanders tried to move heaven and earth to get cable providers like Comcast to allow subscribers to pick and choose the channels they were actually interested in using rather than being forced into expensive “bundles” that included channels of absolutely no interest to them?
Why couldn’t Shumlin have at least held out for some sort of compromise like that which would have actually benefitted Vermonters?
The larger issue is that such concentration of media power in one giant entity represents the potential for unprecedented access to the public ear and eye from a single viewpoint. That seems the very definition of a threat to our democracy.
Heinz reasonably raises the question of whether Comcast’s $475,000. “gift” to the Democratic Governors’ Association (of which Shumlin is the current chair) might have had something to do with the Governor’s willingness to endorse the consolidation.
The DGA apparently isn’t responding to requests for comments, but you can bet this won’t be the last time that Governor Shumlin will be expected to respond to questions about his corporatist sympathies