Comcast Lobbyist Admits To Holding Internet Service For The Poor Hostage To Get NBC Takeover Approved

The Washington Post has a profile piece about Washington DC power dealmaker David Cohen, who has led Comcast’s policy and lobbying efforts for the past decade. It starts out (and ends) with a whopper of a story about Cohen explicitly had Comcast not offer a special internet offering for the poor since he wanted to use it as a bargaining chip in the NBC Universal purchase:

In fall 2009, Comcast planned to launch an Internet service for the poor that was sure to impress federal regulators. But David Cohen, the company’s chief of lobbying, told the staff to wait.

At the time, Comcast was planning a controversial $30 billion bid to take over NBC Universal, and Cohen needed a bargaining chip for government negotiations.

“I held back because I knew it may be the type of voluntary commitment that would be attractive to the chairman” of the Federal Communications Commission, Cohen said in a recent interview.

At the end of the article, the reporter (Ceclia Kang) notes that the FCC later “took credit” for this program when it was launched:

The initiative may not have sealed the FCC’s decision to approve the NBC merger. But it helped, Cohen said.

The proposal clearly captured the fancy of regulators. Late last month, Genachowski, the FCC chairman, touted the program, seemingly claiming some credit for its creation.

“This particular program came from our reviewing of the Comcast NBC-U transaction,” Genachowski said in a speech. “Comcast embraced it as good for the country, as well as good for business. And I’m fine with that.”

In other words, Cohen delayed a program to help the poor… in order to help make Comcast much, much richer in buying NBC… and then conveniently engineered it so that the FCC takes bogus credit for the program which would have been launched much earlier if Comcast hadn’t used it as a bargaining chip. It’s hard not to be cynical about politics in general and the FCC in particular when these kinds of stories hit the press. We’ve long been concerned about the FCC’s ability to be played like a fiddle by industry lobbyists, and this only seems to confirm that point.

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