In the three months that make up Q3 2017, Comcast’s cable communications operation pulled in $2.65 billion in income. Revenue was up 5.1%, even as the company lost 125,000 subscribers.
Those kinds of results are possible for cable companies because they have monopoly power over the majority of their customer base. The most recent data from the FCC shows that nearly 80% of Americans have no choice when it comes to high-speed internet providers; either put up with cable prices, speeds, and usage caps, or go back to the 1970s.
In a perfectly competitive world, this kind of rent-seeking behaviour wouldn’t be possible. But cable companies, including Comcast, have sunk millions into lobbying efforts over the years to keep it that way. TechDirt has a lovely deep-dive on one perfect example in Colorado.
Back in 2005, lobbying from Comcast and CenturyLink resulted in state law SB152, which “required communities jump through numerous hoops should they want to simply make decisions regarding their own, local infrastructure.” Numerous local cities have introduced ballot measures to opt-out of SB152, so that they can have a conversation about starting up a locally-funded alternative to big cable companies, and the latest is the town of Fort Collins, Colorado, whose population of 164,000 voted yesterday on a ballot measure to opt out of SB152.
This ballot measure didn’t require the city to set up its own broadband company. According to the local paper, “Ballot Question 2B does not require the council to create the utility. It gives council flexibility in setting up a business model for providing high-speed internet, including entering into a partnership with a private company.”
But you wouldn’t know that from the ad that Comcast paid to run:
Incumbent ISPs spent more than $200,000 to run ads like that, breaking local spending records in the process.
But luckily, not even Scrooge-esque levels of political spending could defeat the measure. Voters passed the measure on Tuesday, with unofficial tallies putting 57% of voters in favor.