Groups Petition FCC to Reject AT&T-Comcast Merger

by ,

New Cable Giant Would Dominate the Broadband Internet, Stifle Diversity

Center for Digital Democracy
29 April 2002, Washington, DC

In joining 37 other organizations petitioning the Federal Communications Commission to reject the proposed merger of AT&T and Comcast, the Center for Digital Democracy (CDD) outlined several of the dangers that the new cable giant would pose in a attachment to the petition. "New Media, New Controls: AT&T Comcast's Hold on the Broadband Future," CDD's statement, highlights a number of areas in which AT&T Comcast will act in an anti-competitive fashion.

"The proposed merger of these two cable giants has enormous implications for the future health of our media culture," observed Jeffrey Chester, CDD's executive director. "It will tilt the broadband playing field in such a way that the very hallmarks of the Internet--openness, competition, diversity--will give way to the closed, tightly controlled platform of cable. And that's simply too high a price to pay."

CDD's statement to the FCC raises concerns in the following areas:

Control over the new broadband architecture: With access to roughly 50 percent of all cable households, AT&T Comcast would be in a position not only to define the content, logical, and physical layers of the new networks, but also to dictate terms of service, including subscriber rates.

Privacy: Many of the new broadband cable services, built as they are around "personalization" and one-to-one marketing techniques, will have profound implications for user privacy. Comcast's record in this regard (having admitted to collecting user-specific Web traffic data in the past) is questionable, and its investments in such companies as MetaTV (which permits cable operators to "data-mine viewing habits" and to "access real-time subscriber data") must be closely examined.

Set-top box design and deployment: AT&T Comcast's market dominance would allow it to determine the future direction of many of the key architectural components of the broadband era, including intelligent set-top boxes and their operating systems and application software, as well as personal video recorders, electronic program guides, video on demand, and interactive television programming.

Abuse of market power: Just as large cable operators have used their control of the physical cable plant to obtain equity stakes in cable programming, Comcast has received sizable equity stakes in equipment manufacturers in return for the purchase of video-on-demand equipment.

Comcast's history of anti-competitive behavior, and its proposed corporate governance structure, are not in the public interest.

See the full petition of the 38 advocacy organizations including the Media Access Project, US PIRG, and the Association of Independent Video and Filmmakers.

article originally published at .
The media's job is to interest the public in the public interest. -John Dewey