By Dustin Slaughter
Photos by Joshua Albert
Critics of the proposed $45.2 billion merger between Comcast and Time Warner Cable rallied outside a heavily-barricaded Comcast headquarters in Center City this afternoon to vocalize resistance to not only the potential merger, but the FCC’s approval of “paid prioritization” rules, should the deal be finalized. Opponents claim this rule would put an end to Net Neutrality.
“Listen, listen, FCC! The Internet belongs to me!” demonstrators chanted.
Net neutrality advocates say that if the FCC and Justice Department approve the merger, companies like Comcast will be able to control the speed and overall quality of Internet content, creating a “two-tiered” Web where “fast lanes” would be reserved for higher paying customers while low income Americans would lack quality access.
Part of Comcast’s lobbying efforts include a much-touted – though ultimately underperforming – program called “Internet Essentials”. Designed for low-income households, it has met significant criticism from the press and public. A Washington Post front-page story found that of the 2.6 million households in Philadelphia who qualify for the program, approximately 300,000 were actually enrolled.
Joseph Torres of Free Press spoke to the assembled crowd this afternoon:
“We’re living through a critical moment in our nation’s history. A moment that will not only determine the future of the open Internet, but the quality of the democracy we live in.”
In a statement issued this afternoon, public relations spokesman John Demming said:
“We don’t have fast lanes or any plans to have them and we don’t interfere with our customers’ ability to access lawful content online.”
The march and rally, organized by Free Press, Philadelphia-based Media Mobilizing Project, and other community groups, is a vocalized confluence of grievances community members have with the corporation: a valid perception that Comcast dominates the city’s cable market, leaving customers with little choice but to accept rising subscription rates; the company’s undue political influence in Washington, D.C. as well as the company’s massive lobbying efforts in Philadelphia.
Comcast’s power over city politicians is best evidenced by the ultimately-failed effort to pass paid sick day legislation in Philadelphia. While City Council passed the bill, it was ultimately vetoed by Mayor Michael Nutter, who received over $16,000 in campaign contributions from Comcast from 2011 to 2012. The telecommunications giant spent over $180,000 in lobbying to defeat the bill.
This afternoon’s rally took place on the last day to file public comments on the merger. Organizers and attendees hope the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) takes notice of the widespread unpopularity the possible merger has engendered not just here in Philadelphia, but across the country.
The FCC and Justice Department’s decision on approving the deal is expected within the next several months.