Petition for Investigation & Complaint By the FCC Against Time Warner and Comcast
We call for the halt of the proposed Time Warner Cable-Comcast merger, but more importantly, this Petition for Investigation & Complaint calls for the immediate start of a series of investigations. Simply put, one has only to examine this mark up of this Brooklyn New York, Time Warner Triple Play bill (October, 2014) to realize something is terribly wrong, which we will lay out in detail. But these issues impact ALL services and from ALL carriers, who have established the same harmful business practices.
The Public Interest has been tarnished, stained and harmed and it is time for a course correction of oversight, accurate data, investigations and enforcement of the laws. It is time to not only re-evaluate the public policies that govern communications services in America, but fix what’s broken— finally.
And to start, we are calling for a halt to the proposed Time Warner-Comcast merger and we have laid out a series of next steps and investigations that need to be done immediately.
The idea that Comcast and Time Warner, who are two of “the most hated companies in America” in 2014, have proposed a merger that would give one company monopoly control over cable services in the United States (or a duopoly where the other companies have the same problematic business practices) shows just how far we have fallen as a nation to protect the public interest. Besides controlling the cable wires and the broadband, Internet and cable service over those wires, Comcast also owns a large swath of the content on these networks, from NBC to Telemundo, and even movie studios, including Universal Pictures, and cable networks, including Bravo and the Syfy channel.
We will focus on five mostly unexplored areas and supply facts, data and analysis as to why this proposed merger needs to be halted, but more importantly five areas we believe need immediate investigation.
- Time Warner’s “Triple Play” bill exposed questionable business practices and charges including ‘made up fees’, billing errors, as well as deceptive and possible Truth-in-Billing and Truth-in-Advertising violations. These problems are not restricted to Time Warner but are industry-wide.
- Time Warner & Comcast’s “Social Contract” with the FCC. In 1995 an actual agreement called the “Social Contract” was put in place to have the cable companies upgrade their networks and provide broadband and Internet services to schools in their territories. The FCC allowed ‘temporary’ rate increases of up to $5.00 a month; ‘temporary’, as the Contract expired at the end of 2000. Time Warner (at least) never stopped charging customers the extra fee nor is there evidence that the Company wired the schools as required. Moreover, Time Warner and Comcast’s profit margins for “high-speed Internet” was 97% in 2013; the “Social Contract” additions became pure profits, but cost every cable subscriber hundreds of dollars.
- A recently filed consumer protection action was filed with the Albany New York Supreme Court against Time Warner and it reveals multiple issues, including customer service problems, selling broadband/Internet services that were not delivered, among other harms to customers. These problems are not restricted to Time Warner but are industry-wide.
- 22 Years of Continuous Rate Increases Means There has been No ‘Effective Competition’. Using actual bills, we found that Time Warner’s Brooklyn New York’s prices for ‘regular’ cable service increased 306% from 1992-to-November, 2014, from $22.95 a month to $93.16 a month. The “Triple Play” bill shows that this was from made up fees, deregulation of the set-top box (with no alternative), pass-through taxes, and simply because there are no other options; at best, some markets have a ‘duopoly’ which is ineffective for controlling prices or problems with service.
- Multiple Cross-Ties with Verizon’s Wireline and Verizon Wireless, and with Time Warner and Comcast Need Immediate Attention. The FCC and DOJ allowed Verizon Wireless to create a marketing deal with both cable companies to bundle the wireless service with the cable service in areas Verizon has refused to upgrade to FiOS. But what was unexamined is the fact that Verizon Wireless has a sweetheart deal with Verizon wired companies, such as Verizon New York, for use of the networks – as Title II. This means that the wired, wireless, and cable companies are colluding to control almost ALL communications services.
In short, we are not simply asking that the FCC reject the proposed Time Warner-Comcast merger but to start immediate investigations of the cable companies’ business practices. It is time to actually fix the problems everyone in America knows about and is experiencing. These investigations must be done in conjunction with the state commissions, the Attorney General’s offices, and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), as the communications bill is no longer one service or covered under one jurisdiction. With the sales of the triple play and other marketing packages, these issues impact all communications services — wireline, wireless or cable company supplied cable TV, broadband, Internet, phone, and wireless services.
THE PETITION FOR INVESTIGATION AND COMPLAINT: