“Net Neutrality” a Cover for Comcast-Time Warner Merger?

On the left, Comcast CEO Brian Roberts golfing with President Obama

On the left, Comcast CEO Brian Roberts golfing with President Obama

If you’ve been reading my articles on Net Neutrality, you know that I feel the FCC whipped up the public into a false hysteria over “Net Neutrality” so they could use this as an excuse to hijack control of the Internet. Yet I had a nagging feeling I wasn’t seeing the whole picture. Something was missing. Besides just the general desire for big governments to control the Free and Open Internet, was there another reason President Obama and the FCC suddenly became so interested in taking control of the Internet? Was there more behind the FCC orchestration of the Net Neutrality Hysteria of 2014? After much research on the topic, I think I may have figured it out. During my research, I stumbled upon the fact that the cable company Comcast is one of the largest lobbyists in Washington and a big contributor to President Obama. I also happened to read an article discussing the proposed merger between Comcast and Time-Warner Cable that is awaiting FCC approval and the controversy it is causing. Could the government’s actions have been not so much for protecting Net Neutrality, but rather to remove the hurdles to a Comcast-Time Warner Cable merger?

First, let’s review the timeline of events:

  • May 1, 2013: Obama nominates Tom Wheeler to be chairmain of the FCC. Wheeler is a well-known telecom and cable industry lobbyist and a major Obama donor. Advocates of “Net Neutrality” are alarmed.
  • August 14, 2013: Obama plays golf with the CEO of Comcast. Not that this is anything special. As I mentioned above, Comcast is no stranger to Washington. Besides the massive financial contributions, Comcast’s CEO also served on Obama’s Jobs Council and has appeared at various White House meetings on business and technology. But the timing of this golf game is interesting. As we all know, a lot of business gets done on a golf course. It is also a great way for politicians to have “unofficial” meetings since no agendas or topic of discussions are made public.
  • October 29, 2013: Tom Wheeler is confirmed by the Senate. The fact that an industry insider instead of a “consumer advocate” now chairs the FCC concerns advocates of a Free and Open Internet.
  • February 13, 2014: Comcast announces plans to acquire Time Warner Cable, setting off a firestorm of controversy, as the combined company would have a major share of the Internet service industry. This further unsettles advocates of a Free and Open Internet.
  • February 19, 2014: Chairman Wheeler initiates the creation of new rules around an “Open Internet”.
  • April 29, 2014: Chairman Wheeler circulates the new rules to the FCC. This proposal is what sets off the Net Neutrality Hysteria of 2014 as critics charge it will allow Internet service providers to create “slow lanes.” Wheeler also hints at Title II regulation as “a clear alternative.”
  • May 15, 2014: In a party-line vote, the FCC votes 3-2 to accept Chairman Wheeler’s draft proposal. However, the FCC also opens up a 60-day public comment period to be followed by a 57-day second phase of public commenting.
  • June 1, 2014: John Oliver’s infamous segment on Net Neutrality airs on HBO and goes viral. The mainstream public gets a taste of the Net Neutrality debate and given Oliver’s slant, floods the FCC with comments in support of “Net Neutrality”. It must be noted, however, that Oliver wasn’t calling for an FCC takeover of the Internet, but rather that Tom Wheeler simply “not eat the baby”. In other words, Oliver was firstly concerned with the FCC itself destroying Net Neutrality.
  • September 15, 2014: The public commenting period ends with nearly 4 million comments filed. These are the most comments the FCC has ever received on any issue.
  • November 10, 2014: Ostensibly with public support for “Net Neutrality,” President Obama calls for the FCC to classify Internet service under Title II of the 1934 Communications Act, essentially making Internet service fall under the same types of regulations as public utility companies. Yet it is not clear if the public actually wants the FCC to take Title II action or if the public simply didn’t want to the FCC to “eat the baby”.
  • February 5, 2015: Tom Wheeler proposes a new set of FCC rules that classifies Internet service under Title II. This time, Wheeler does not allow for a period of public comment, saying we “can’t wait,” even though the new rules are significantly different than what was proposed in 2014. Additionally, the proposed rules are not made public, even at the insistence of congress and other FCC commissioners.
  • February 26, 2015: The FCC votes to approve Wheeler’s proposal 3-2, again on a party-line vote. As of this writing, the new FCC rules are still not public.

So how are the new FCC rules relevant in regards to the Comcast-Time Warner merger? Technically, we don’t actually know because the new rules are still not available to the public! But that being said, we do know the merger must be approved by the FCC. Where previously there was a lot of pushback to the merger due to the size of a combined Comcast-Time Warner company, now it is easy for the FCC to say that with the new “Net Neutrality” rules in place, we have no need to fear such a merger. Doing further research, it looks like I’m not the only one who thinks this way. I guess we’ll need to see how the vote shakes out, but even with significant public opposition no one should be surprised if the merger now passes approval with the justification being that a stronger FCC can control the huge company.

Now certainly I have no inside knowledge that any of this is true. This series of events could be just one big coincidence. I could be 100% completely wrong about my conclusion. But when it comes to finding the truth, the old adage is “follow the money.” If this series of events has been an orchestrated plan all along, this will turn out to be one of the most egregious instances of crony capitalism ever foisted upon the American public. Not only does the federal government now have carte blanche to regulate the Internet in almost any way it sees fit, but it seems to be handing over the Internet to the largest communication companies. This is exactly what Net Neutrality supporters feared! Yet without full knowledge of the enormity of the FCC’s new rules, they are unwittingly cheering the FCC’s actions!

Instead of encouraging new competition, the FCC is working hand in hand with the two largest ISPs in the country to ensure consolidation in the industry. Perhaps now we see why chairman Wheeler was in such a hurry to pass the new rules. He needed them in place to provide cover for the Comcast-Time Warner merger!