Did you know that Comcast ghostwrites endorsement letters from politicians to the Federal Communications Commission about its awful merger with Time Warner Cable? Like, a Comcast flack literally puts words in local leaders' mouths and then uses them as evidence that America likes this merger.
Bad news, for sure. Not surprising news, however.
The latest report on how the rabid telecom giant attempts to influence the FCC's decisions with fake missives from unsuspecting local leaders is just further evidence that Comcast is political animal, using everything from lobbyists to psyops to manipulate public opinion. The company's been swindling organizations into taking its side (e.g. getting others to support its TWC merger or to oppose net neutrality) for years.
Again, this is no surprise. Regardless of whether the American people really do hate Comcast so much—and they do—Comcast is spending a lot of money trying to make the right people, like policymakers, believe otherwise. How do they do it, exactly? Let me count the ways.
Comcast writes letters for politicians. That's the very simple explanation. The more complex version is that Comcast writes letters for democratically elected politicians, many of whom they also give money to. It's kind of the opposite of how ghostwriting is supposed to work. Comcast pays for the privilege of ghostwriting a letter from your local leader to the federal government gatekeeper of its choice. Those letters inevitably make Comcast seem like a wonderful, loving company with America's best interest in mind. All the local leader has to do is sign at the bottom.
Sound democratic? LOL nope. But it's how Comcast does business. The Verge just detailed several examples of Comcast's ghostwriting letters from politicians to the FCC, letters that do anything from championing the TWC merger to glowing about Comcast's spending on local infrastructure.
The overall effect, of course, is to build a body of evidence that Comcast is not an evil company and should be allowed to grow, regardless of its monopolistic intents. That effect, Comcast hopes, will lead to policymakers making policy that favors Comcast's interests. It's no coincidence that a lot of the letters the FCC's been receiving to this effect look very similar. They're all written by Comcast goons! And again, this kind of thing has been happening for years.
When it come down to it, ghostwritten letters are a slightly more sophisticated version of straight up propaganda. That doesn't mean that Comcast is below propagandizing. Quite the opposite, in fact.
As long as a decade ago, Comcast was combatting municipal broadband initiatives across the country with good old fashioned misinformation campaigns. Motherboard highlighted on flier-based campaign that Comcast embarked upon in Illinois a few years ago. The fliers led with sensational headlines like: "Having Halloween Nightmares? Ghosts? Goblins? Witches?… A Municipal Broadband Utility?" What followed on the slightly cheesy and overall generic publications were misrepresented facts about municipal broadband and its discontents. If you squinted at the fine print, you could barely make out the line "Paid for by Comcast."
The propaganda worked in this case. Although the municipal broadband measures were highly favored in the polls, they were defeated on two separate occasions after citizens were drowned in misinformation. And to think Comcast didn't even have to impersonate any politicians! This was just good old fashioned manipulation. Comcast has really doubled-down on this sort of thing with its bogus statements in the net neutrality debate, too.
While Comcast certainly sets itself apart for non-traditional approaches to deception, the telecom giant is still great at old fashioned lobbying. This is the insidery brand of revolving door politicking a lot of patriot Americans wish didn't exist. And it's all, mostly, legal.
Take the revolving door element of lobbying. Comcast is great at this.The company employs a dozen industry leaders who used to work in the public sector and now push Comcast's anti-net neutrality agenda in Washington. Five of those 12 used to work for the FCC itself. FCC chairman Tom Wheeler's legal advisor used to work for Comcast, while Wheeler himself used to represent Comcast as the proud president of the Cellular Telecom and Internet Association (CTIA). Meredith Atwell Baker, a former FCC commissioner who voted in favor of the Comcast-NBC Universal deal before becoming a VP a Comcast-NBC Universal, is in the incoming CTIA president.
An even more straightforward approach to lobbying, however, involves just throwing money at the issues. Comcast is also really good at this—in part because they seem to have more money than morals. If you look at the lawmakers on Capitol Hill who are tasked with regulating big telecom, for instance, Comcast has given almost every single one of them many thousands of dollars worth of campaign donations. To boot, many of these politicians maintain personal investments in Comcast and other big cable companies that they regulate. Although to be fair, that's as much a sign of a dirty politician as it is a dirty lobbying strategy.
The list of Comcast's manipulations goes on. However, in aggregate, the whole approach amounts to a twisted act of impersonation. Comcast pretends to represent the interests of the average American on an official level by inserting its interests in the democratic process. Whether this is by buying the voices of democratically elected officials or distorting the facts in democratic decision-making, Comcast wants to tell the government what you want. The company is actually doing that actively.
What can you do about it? Well if you're lucky enough to have the option, you can stop buying Comcast's services. You can also support President Obama's new initiative to encourage investment in municipal broadband projects that stand to loosen Comcast's stranglehold on the internet.
However, anybody can file a (real) comment or complaint with the FCC and yell at their Congressman or Senator for taking Comcast's dirty money. Feel free not to elect leaders that take money from Comcast, too. After all, corruption is best addressed before it starts.
Image by Michael Hession