Al Franken Drops the Hammer on the Comcast Time-Warner Deal

Senator Franken does it again. The Democratic Minnesota Senator has a track record of being one of few lonely voices for the people in DC. Today Senator Franken dropped the hammer on the Comcast Time-Warner merger, saying that the deal needs careful scrutiny. Franken wants federal regulators to protect consumers and act quickly on Comcast’s $40 billion dollar purchase of Time-Warner.

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In a letter to the Department of Justice, the Federal Trade Commission, and the Federal Communications Commission, Franken said the move could be bad for consumers by driving up cable rates, “I have serious reservations about this proposed transaction, which would consolidate the largest and second largest cable providers in America. I urge you to act quickly and decisively to ensure that consumers are not exposed to increased cable prices and decreased quality of service as a result of this transaction.”

Franken observed that customers are already paying high bills for unsatisfactory service, “Unfortunately, a handful of cable providers dominate the market, leaving consumers with little choice but to pay high bills for often unsatisfactory service.”

Citing rising cable rates, Franken reminded the DOJ, FTC and FCC that Comcast recently acquired NBC Universal, and any further merger would give Comcast too much control over television content.

Not only would this merger give Comcast too much control over content and pricing, but as a long time Comcast customer, I can relate that their accountability to their customers is at an all time low as well as the service provided, and not just in the general crappy customer service way that we have all had to adjust to as big corporations take over our lives.

If our government really cares about consumers, they need to listen to Senator Franken and do a full investigation into Comcast’s customer service and fulfillment of contracted services. A quick Google search, for example, will reveal that Comcast modems/routers are notorious for a double NAT condition that they will deny unless and until a customer with enough followers on Twitter finds the right technician after making a rather huge stink on Twitter (full disclosure: see my Twitter timeline). Instead, they blame third party applications.

I met a lot of fellow Comcast sufferers during that debacle, and many of them complained that no one from Comcast was responding to them. This wasn’t a case of accidental, incidental bad customer service. I took an entire day off in order to deal with the fact that the recently installed Xfinity system was not working. I had no/terribly slow wireless internet and thus several other included services, including security system, were not working. A day should be long enough to make some headway in addressing this problem, no? No.

I never found anyone who would listen, after a day on the phone. I spent hours re-calling Comcast, after being repeatedly and consistently hung up on in transfers (even when they promised to hang on so it wouldn’t happen again) and having to redo the entire automated bit, and then getting a service rep who would end up telling me that it was my problem, there was nothing they could do, or I could pay for a rep to come out to fix the install that I had just paid for.

Even at this juncture, I thought I was just dealing with poor customer service. They eventually offered me a discount on a service call (the potential cost of which they were rather vague about), which I refused because in my mind, I had just paid 600 dollars for an install/system and I expected it to operate. I didn’t think I needed to pay them again (that course in contract law failed to mention companies that are so big as to be unaccountable) to make it work. They argued that since they had only set up the things relying on the wireless, it was my problem, although I purchased the Xfinity Home Internet, cable, and security system.

After spending the entire day trying to find someone who would respond, I gave up. I started leaving my house for internet service, while still paying for the system. I stocked up on wireless sticks. Internet friends who know more about technology jumped in to help to no avail. An old friend who used to work for Comcast tested my Internet speed when connected directly, and it was like the old dial up days. So the problem was clearly not just the wireless connection.

Eventually I tweeted my frustration, a step I didn’t take lightly. Many people replied to me that they had the same trouble. Over the course of many days, a new Twitter friend with advanced technical knowledge informed me that he had finally solved his problem! He had a case of the double NATs, caused by using their router for two devices. Apparently Comcast routers don’t play well with others. (I make no promise that I’m getting all of these tech terms correct; I’m just a girl who wanted Internet and Cable.) A quick remote fix by a technician who admitted the problem and bingo, he was finally rolling again.

But trying to find someone in Comcast customer service who is aware of this problem and knows how to fix it is daunting. You can find them on Twitter, eventually. You can find decent service on chat, if you are fairly comfortable with technology. But the phone service is utterly unacceptable.

Customers don’t have a choice; they are stuck with Comcast’s Bermuda Triangle of customer service. Comcast customers are sitting ducks — targets unknowingly being primed for the sham.

This is the kind of poor corporate accountability that if allowed to continue, will result in silently — through omission and accountability failure — killing consumers’ rights. It has already killed competition. It is incrementally, fundamentally changing America.

As Mr. Justice Douglas wrote in dissenting opinion in UNITED STATES V. COLUMBIA STEEL CO. in 1948, “We have here the problem of bigness. Its lesson should by now have been burned into our memory by Brandeis. The Curse of Bigness shows how size can become a menace-both industrial and social. It can be an industrial menace because it creates gross inequalities against existing or putative competitors. It can be a social menace because of its control of prices.”

Can Comcast be a responsible corporation if they merge with Time-Warner? Maybe. But not without the government investigating their current practices, and babysitting them the entire time if they are allowed to merge. The fact is, they are already taking advantage of customers in a way that they’d never get away with if they didn’t have so much power.

Comcast already has so much power that they can essentially force people to pay for a contract even though they are not upholding their contractual promises.

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