OPINION – The proposed combination of Comcast and Time Warner Cable has generated lots of heat in the media this year, but not a lot of light. At the NAACP, we look at deals like this through our own particular lens – asking what is best for consumers, what are the risks and downsides, and what does the most for under-served communities and people of color in our state. On each of those, we see concrete benefits that will leave our economy, communities, and people stronger and better served.
The first question is how this deal will affect services consumers depend upon – Internet and cable television in particular. Comcast points out that its current broadband networks in California are three times as fast as those of Time Warner Cable, and in many places nationwide the Comcast product routinely hits 505 Mbps, 200 Mbps faster than TWC’s top rate. Comcast has promised to spend hundreds of millions of dollars bringing the laggard TWC networks up to snuff – investment that will help the economy and bring a superior product to our citizens.
The company also boasts of its strong track record in programming diversity and supporting, African-American owned networks like Magic Johnson’s ASPiRE. It offers the nation’s richest menu of African-American focused programming such as The Africa Channel, Gospel Music Channel (now called UP TV), TV One, and more. Latino, Asian-American, and other diversity communities are equally well served.
Critics claim the deal poses risks to competition, but fail to explain how that is the case when Comcast and TWC do not directly compete and the deal will not change the choices available in our communities. Why should a consumer care if her cable bill says Comcast or TWC – what matters is the value and quality of service, which this transaction seems likely to improve.
Critics also argue the deal could make Comcast a “gatekeeper” for what we can watch on TV. That would not be acceptable and we would never endorse a transaction that put a distant corporation in charge of the news, information, and entertainment available in our community. But this accusation seems like smoke and mirrors. Putting aside cable, we have multiple other choices for video programming. Broadcast on the public airwaves remains free to all, and Dish and DirecTV offer their own directly competing products. And then a host of online competitors from Netflix to Amazon to new upstarts like the HBO and Showtime non-cable channels just announced. The idea that a larger Comcast could control what we watch is just far- fetched and wrong.
Finally, we ask what this deal means in particular for African American communities. And again we see a clear step forward. Comcast is a recognized leader in workforce and supplier diversity. As of last year, people of color made up 40% of its full-time U.S. employees (including its NBCUniversal subsidiary) and 25% of company management. African Americans represent over 21% of the company’s full time staff and more than 7% of management, and two African Americans sit on the company’s Board. This internal diversity seems to have impacted the company’s external business as well – Comcast reports spending over $1.25 billion a year with vendors and suppliers of color.
Finally, the company is widely recognized as a socially responsible and committed corporate partner. Its long history working with the National Urban League, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and the National Action Network speak volumes. And those high-level partnerships are matched by concrete efforts on the ground, primarily the Internet Essentials broadband adoption program that has provided over 1.8 million low-income Americans in families with school age children with affordable home Internet. Offering a sub-$10 Internet connection, a subsidized computer, and free skills training, Internet Essentials has been called by the NAACP the “largest experiment ever” to close the digital divide and bring all Americans online. And this transaction will expand Internet Essentials to all of Comcast’s new territories.
Critics decry Comcast’s large size, but I am not interested in penalizing any company for its success. Comcast has always been a strong partner to African-American communities, and it has used its success to reinvest in better products and the communities it serves. The transaction with Time Warner Cable seems likely to continue to that trend, to the benefit of all involved.
By Dr. Amos C. Brown
Dr. Amos C. Brown is a Board Member for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), President of the NAACP’s San Francisco Chapter, and pastor of San Francisco’s Third Baptist Church.