One of the biggest mysteries in life is why a company that’s as universally hated as Comcast seems to get whatever it wants when it comes to merger approvals. Two new reports — one from Bloomberg and one from Washingtonian — give us some good insight into the bag of sneaky tricks that Comcast uses to get influential lawmakers, journalists and nonprofit organizations to stand by its side.
As Bloomberg documents, one of Comcast’s go-to tactics for persuading lawmakers to support its merger proposals is pledging to expand its Internet Essentials program, which is designed to get more low-income people in the United States connected to the Internet.
The problem is that few families appear to be taking advantage of these programs — Bloomberg writes that Internet Essentials “has reached 350,000 households — or about 13% of those eligible, according to one estimate.” Comcast critics say this small number of users reflects the fact that the program has “tight eligibility criteria and balky signup procedures” that deter people from signing on.
All the same, Comcast is constantly promising to bring the program to more people as long as regulators give it what it wants, first with its merger with NBC years ago and today with its proposed merger with Time Warner Cable.
Washingtonian, meanwhile, explains how Comcast uses charity donations as a weapon — essentially, Comcast will make big donations to some charities and in exchange leans on them to publicly support the company during big public policy battles.
“To rally political support for the [NBC] merger, Comcast’s political-action committee handed out campaign cash, and Cohen worked to head off the concerns over diversity,” Washingtonian writes. “Between 2008 and 2010, Comcast’s corporate foundation donated more than $3 million to 39 minority groups that wrote letters to federal regulators in support of the NBC deal… And in 2009 and 2010, Comcast gave $155,000 to an organization founded by the Reverend Al Sharpton, who ended up endorsing the merger.”
And there’s more — Washingtonian writes that “congressional staffers, journalists, and other influential Washingtonians who complained about [Comcast’s] service” were given some of Comcast’s infamous VIP customer service cards that special customers can use to get good customer service instead of the retched customer service that mere peasants have to deal with on a regular basis.
All told, Comcast has a remarkably sophisticated operation for helping secure allies despite being one of America’s most hated companies. We imagine that if Comcast applied even a fraction of the energy it puts into greasing up lawmakers and charities into actually delivering decent service, it would have a vastly better reputation than it does right now.