(Photo by David Ziegler)
Inside the Kimmel Center Wednesday, a group of shareholders and investors discussed the financial ramifications of the proposed $45 billion merger between Comcast and Time Warner Cable. It would be another step in the startling ascension of Comcast as the country’s largest media company.
Outside on Broad St., more than 60 people protested the mega-merger, citing concerns about increasingly higher rates and fewer choices, as well as a general opposition to the consolidation of power between the two largest cable and internet providers in the country. Protesters chanted “I vote no” and “Stop raising rates/protect our right to communicate.”
The crowd mainly consisted of dissatisfied consumers of Comcast, and also representatives from social and media advocacy groups like the Media Mobilizing Project, an organization that uses media and communication to build a movement around poor and working-class people.
“Everything we’re doing today is part of a larger campaign to stop the merger,” said MMP’s Jeff Rousset to the crowd. “We need to work with all of you over the next few months to send this message loud and clear to the FCC and the Department of Justice as they prepare to vote on if this merger is going to happen this year.”
The protest concluded with the presentation of a “People’s Vote,” a petition signed by more than 400,000 people across the nation who are against the merger.
Hannah Sassaman, Policy Director at MMP, started a campaign around Comcast earlier this year when it was renegotiating its franchise agreement, which determines what the city receives in return for giving Comcast the “right-of-way” to its citizens. Sassaman and Mary Alice Crim from FreePress hope that in addition to its role in influencing the FCC’s decision, the petition will also be considered by City Hall when reviewing its franchise agreement with Comcast in 2015.
“This industry is notorious for lousy customer service,” said Delara Derakhshani, policy counsel from Consumers Union and a participant at the Kimmel Center protest. “It is our strong belief that by combining these two companies, the situation is not going to be improved at all. It’s going to lead to fewer choices, higher prices, and it’s not going to benefit consumers or competition.”
The latest report from the American Customer Satisfaction Index found that Comcast and Time Warner have the lowest customer satisfaction ratings for both their TV and internet services. Both companies actually received poorer ratings than last year, when they were still ranked at the bottom.
John Demming, the Executive Director of Corporate Communications at Comcast, released this official statement regarding the merger:
“The combination of Comcast and Time Warner Cable will bring significant benefits to consumers, including faster internet speeds, net neutrality protection, a more reliable and more secure network, low-cost internet access and more diverse and independent programming to millions of additional Americans across the nation. It will also bring more investment and technology and new services to more homes and businesses. The transaction is a win for consumers.”
But those loudest protesters and supporters do not see the evidence for these claims.
“Consumers deserve things like net neutrality protections, faster speeds, and consumer protections, regardless of which company they subscribe to,” said Todd O’Boyle, the Program Director of Media and Democracy at Common Cause.
After the protest, Demming elaborated on Comcast’s official statement. The “faster internet speeds” mainly refer to Time Warner customers, since Comcast’s connectivity speed is twice that of Time Warner. Time Warner customers will also gain access to the Cloud-based X1 Entertainment Operating System, which provides a more seem-less interaction between internet and TV.
“Philly [customers] won’t experience much of a change, except an increase in scale,” Demming said. “Philly’s our hometown, and we have a significant commitment to this city. We’ve employed more than 6,000 people, and our new Innovation and Technology Center will create 1,500 new jobs.”
Construction on the 59-story building begins this summer, with an estimated completion date in the fall of 2017. If all goes accordingly, it will become the 8th tallest building in the U.S.
Whether or not the merger gets approved remains to be seen. If the FCC and the Department of Justice find that the merger would reduce competition, or if it’s against “public interest” (which can be defined very loosely,) then they can deny the merger.