Comcast: a problem in need of a solution?

by Timothy Kerr,

Cable giant Comcast reportedly axed a critical segment on ABC's Nightline from its Internet video-on-demand service.

The removal of the segment raises significant doubts about cable company promises that they would never block or degrade users' choice of content on the Internet. The Nightline incident indicates otherwise.

The segment in question features a video clip of a Comcast technician who fell asleep on a customer’s couch during a repair visit. The customer videotaped the sleeping repairman and posted the clip on the popular online video site YouTube, where it went "viral" (more than 700,000 downloads to date).

Last Friday, Nightline picked up the clip as part of a story about angry consumers who “bite back” against abusive corporations.

But the sleeping repairman went mysteriously missing from the version of Nightline that aired on Comcast’s Internet service. See for yourself:

That's not all that went AWOL. Cut from the Comcast version is more than four minutes of ABC correspondent Vicki Mabry's report — including the sleeping technician clip, a screenshot of a “Comcast Sucks” Web site, and Mabry’s finding that the cable company quietly employs people to monitor or “ghost” anti-Comcast Web sites.

The Comcast version ends just before this critical content and jumps abruptly to the next “Nightline” segment.

Was this censorship by an ISP? Not according to Comcast, which is now scrambling to defuse the controversy. The Consumerist blog, which helped break this story received a response from a Comcast spokesperson, who claimed that an ABC "encoder" had cut the segment in question -- and not Comcast.

A technical glitch that removed only negative Comcast content?? Go figure.

In recent months, ISPs like Comcast, AT&T and Verizon have pledged before the media never to block or degrade Internet content, in an effort to quell concerns by consumer advocates and Net Neutrality proponents. And yet here we have a case where the only segment blocked from a Comcast Internet service is the portion critical of Comcast.

Given Comcast’s high-profile stance against Net Neutrality it’s little surprise that they would try to clean up this incident before it spreads beyond the blogosphere.

The Consumerist found it odd "that Comcast would declare the ABC producer affirmatively said it was an ABC encoder problem that cause the cut. Either way you slice it, it’s certainly terribly convenient for Comcast."

Such convenience comes at a time when Comcast is desparate not to be portrayed as an Internet gatekeeper.

Last week, Comcast Vice President David Cohen wrote in a Philly Inquirer Op-Ed that “net-neutrality proponents are marching a new parade of horribles down Hypothetical Boulevard.” Cohen called “phantoms” citizens' concerns that Comcast or other ISPs would play gatekeeper to Web content. He cribbed phone and cable company lobbyist talking points writing that “Net neutrality is a solution in search of a problem.”

But the Nightline incident suggests that this “problem” is more real than Comcast would like to admit.

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The media's job is to interest the public in the public interest. -John Dewey