Here we go again. Just a few months ago, Comcast threw in the towel and gave up its bid to take over Time Warner Cable (TWC). Faced with unrelenting opposition from the public, consumer groups, civil rights organizations, a broad range of content producers and providers, thousands of unhappy customers, and growing scrutiny from both the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the Department of Justice (DOJ), Comcast chose to abandon the effort and walk away. But the drama isn't over. A Time-Warner merger is still in play, now with a bid from Charter Communications. Unlike the Comcast behemoth, Charter is somewhat smaller (as the third largest cable broadband provider) and has a much different history. The big question many in the Latino community are asking: could the proposed Charter merger actually be worse for Latinos than the one proposed by Comcast?
Presente, the organization I direct, strongly opposed the Comcast-TWC merger because creating a cable mega-company would have had a broad negative impact on Latino customers. The combined company would have monopolized major markets in cities with huge Latino populations like New York, Los Angeles, Dallas, San Diego, and many others. And it would have given one company unprecedented power to decide what programming Latinos can watch, what services we receive, and what prices we pay.
Because of these and other factors, thousands of Presente members contacted the FCC and Justice Department in opposition to the merger, and we celebrated when Comcast eventually withdrew its bid.
As we campaigned against the merger, we revealed how Comcast was successful in winning support from Latino organizations by significantly ramping up financial contributions to their causes, essentially coercing them to support or stay silent on the deal.
As attention to the issue has faded, some industry experts are saying that the Charter-TWC merger is likely to be approved with little resistance. Opposition is much more muted, and the merger is being called a "easier deal." We've heard this before. The Comcast-TWC merger was widely considered a slam-dunk just 6 months before it was rejected by federal regulators.
To deflect early opposition, Charter has ramped up its efforts to present a more diverse, responsible and customer focused presentation. They recently released a "Public Interest Statement" that promises, among other things, "to create thousands of U.S.- based jobs"; a commitment to "a free and open Internet"; and recognition for "the vital importance of promoting diversity and inclusion strongly rooted in the communities it serves."
But we are not convinced. Charter and Time Warner Cable are among the most hated companies in the US and are often cited as having, along with Comcast, the very worst customer service of all cable companies. Charter has consistently been ranked as one of "the worst companies in America." Experts and people working in the industry tell us that Charter's record of working with Latinos and communities of color is either non-existent and or one of the worst. And what we are hearing on their relationships with Latino owned networks and record of hiring diverse employees and contractors is extremely concerning .
Presente will be scrutinizing this merger, especially the impact it will have on the Latino constituents who will make up such a substantial customer base for the 'New Charter.'
We will use the same criteria we used to evaluate the Comcast-TWC proposal, specifically looking at:
• Customer Service: How will the merged company behave when it becomes one of the major cable and broadband providers to Latino families? Are we looking at more of the same (lower-quality products, higher prices and worse customer service)?
• Diversity: Charter has one of the worst records of any of the telecoms for diversity in employment and hiring diverse contractors and vendors. Can we expect better?
• Support for Latino Media: Charter's relationships with Latino owned and controlled networks are reportedly even worse than Comcast's. What will happen when Latino customers rely on Charter for domestic and international programming?
Make no mistake, some of the most dangerous components of the failed Mega-Comcast merger are now a part of the proposed Charter deal. If approved, this deal would be the largest merger in the cable broadband industry's history, impacting millions in our community. That's why we'll be working with our members and partners to carefully analyze this deal and broadly and aggressively educate our community about its potential impact.
1. Forbes Magazine, 5/26/2015