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Battle Over Comcast Buyout Of ATT Cable Focuses On Service, Spying and Union-Busting
By Steve Zeltzer
Producer Labor Video Project
Lvpsf@labornet.org
Vice Chair Producers and Programmers Network San Francisco

The ongoing monopolization of cable systems escalated when Comcast Cable based in Philadelphia bought out ATT Cable around the country. The monopolization of the cable systems threatens the rights of local communities and other internet providers from getting space. Comcast if the buy-out is agreed on will control 22 million people who have cable tv. Under federal law, communities have the right to approve a take-over by a new franchise operator and many communities around the country including LA, Boston, Chicago and San Francisco are demanding new conditions for any take-over.

The Boston and Chicago city councils have passed resolutions requiring Comcast to agree to negotiate a union contract when a union get over 50% of the authorization cards signed in a property. Many ATT properties like those in San Francisco are non-union and these union-busting companies have sought to exclude any unionization. http://www.prnewswire.com/cgi-bin/stories.pl?ACCT=104&STORY=/www/story/06-14 -2002/0001747331&EDATE

The Labor Video Project and the Producers and Programmers Network of San Francisco have demanded that workers have unfettered right to organize. While the CWA is backing the merger nationally, it is still critical that the CWA and all unions fight for full unionization and demand that all Comcast properties provide proper funding for community access. We need to also develop a campaign as part of this struggle for a 24 hour labor cable channel on the cable systems.http://www.prnewswire.com/cgi-bin/stories.pl?ACCT=104&STORY=/www/sto ry/06-14-2002/0001747260&EDATE

In San Francisco where the contract expires in 2005 with the cable operator, we and a number of supervisors including Jake McGoldrick and Chris Daly have also called for the municipalization of the cable system by the city. At present, cable operators limit the choice of channels based on whether they have investments in that channel. For this reason the Sundance Channel which many in San Francisco would want is not available.

Another issue raised by the the LVP and the PPNSF is the danger of spying on internet users by Comcast and other cable operators. Comcast is being sued in Federal Court for spying on subscribers who are also internet users http://wire.ap.org/APnews/center_story.html?FRONTID=TECHNOLOGY&STORYID=APIS7 JNSEHO0. Comcast is interested in using the information for marketing to their subscribers but it also obviously has dangers of illegal surveillance and spying. Comcast has also opposed community access in Philadelphia where it is being based and is being sued for discrimination against political groups as well as other who want low cost access.http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/national/AP-Public-Access-Cable.html

Labor media activists and the trade union movement as a whole must begin the national campaign for public control of the cable systems with proper funding of community access channels. In addition, millions of cable subscribers are faced with mounting bills while there is a major deterioration in services. In fact, at the hearing in San Francisco, it was reported the Comcast received even more complaints than ATT for service problems.

At the same time, the large increases in monthly bills are forcing more and more working people off cable even thought they increasingly need cable to get news and information. In San Bruno, California where the cable system is owned by the city the monthly cost is $14.00 while in San Francisco, basic service is now nearly $40.00.

The right of working people to have high speed access and other internet services is now part and parcel of the fight to municipalize the cable companies and end the corporate media monopolies.

CITY OF BOSTON
In City Council

RESOLUTION OF COUNCILOR FEENEY
(passed unanimously)

Whereas: AT&T Broadband assumed control of the cable television franchise in January, 2001 from Cablevision Systems; and

Whereas: AT&T Broadband is now in the process of merging with Comcast and has applied for a transfer of its franchise to a new entity to be called AT&T/Comcast; and

Whereas: AT&T has raised rates four times in one way or another in the short time it has held the franchise; and

Whereas: AT&T has failed utterly to provide quality service to its 150,000 household subscribers in Boston; and

Whereas: AT&T has reneged on commitments and timelines to ìbuild outî the system; and

Whereas: AT&T has gone back on a promise to offer genuine discounts to senior citizens; and

Whereas: AT&T has refused to make any assurances that the customer call center in Allston will remain open post-transfer and post-merger; and

Whereas: AT&T, while claiming that 52% of its employees in Boston are city residents, in fact makes extensive use of out of state contractors; and

Whereas: AT&T has, under apparent orders from Comcast, refused to extend and neutrality/consent election agreement with the Communications Workers of America, AFL-CIO and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, AFL-CIO; and

Whereas: AT&T and Comcast have offered no guarantees that the new corporation will honor existing collective bargaining agreements or maintain existing wages, benefits and working conditions; and

Whereas: AT&T and Comcast have promised Wall Street that they will raise profit margins from AT&Tís 22% level to Comcastís 39% level and that such increased profits may be achieved through either more rate hikes, service-affecting job cuts or further delays in system upgrades ñ or all three.

Ordered: That the Boston City Council urges Mayor Thomas Menino, the issuing authority and sole decision maker in this matter, to approve AT&T Broadbandís franchise transfer application only under the following clear and enforceable conditions, that the combined entity:

Pay a substantial penalty for past non-compliance.

Post a sizeable bond to assure compliance in the future, with failure to honor commitments resulting in forfeit.

Freeze rates for the remaining term of the franchise with no change in basic channels.

Restore a real discount for senior citizens.

Keep the customer call center in Allston open.

Eliminate the use of subcontractors in construction projects.

Come to agreement with CWA and IBEW on a code of conduct for labor-management relations.

Filed in City Council: May 15,2002

Note: According to the clerk, this is the text of a resolution which passed unanimously in todayís formal session.

http://wire.ap.org/APnews/center_story.html?FRONTID=TECHNOLOGY&STORYID=APIS7 JNSEHO0
Comcast Sued Over Web Recordings

By TED BRIDIS
Associated Press Writer
May, 25, 2002

WASHINGTON (AP) — Comcast Corp., the nation's third-largest cable company, is being sued in U.S. court in Michigan over accusations it violated a federal privacy law when it recorded the Web browsing activities of each of its 1 million high-speed Internet subscribers.

Lawyer Steven Goren of Bingham Farms, Mich., filed a class-action complaint against Comcast and its cable subsidiary Tuesday. Goren, who predicted ``months or years'' of litigation, is seeking attorney's fees plus damages of at least $100 per day for every Comcast subscriber during the period from December to Feb. 13, when Comcast pledged to stop the practice.

Comcast, which is seeking U.S. approval for a $45 billion merger with its largest rival, AT&T Broadband, said in a statement Friday that it respects the privacy of its Internet subscribers and ``has not in any way compromised their privacy or linked Internet usage data to personally identifying information about any specific subscriber.'' It said Goren's lawsuit was ``without merit, and Comcast intends to defend itself vigorously.''

The AP reported in early February that Comcast had started recording each customer's visit to Web sites as part of a technology overhaul to save money and speed up its network. Comcast pledged to stop immediately a day later, after a consumer backlash and after Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., criticized the tracking in a letter to Comcast President Brian Roberts.

Goren, who usually handles medical malpractice cases, argues that Comcast violated the 1984 Cable Act, which prohibits companies from collecting personal information from customers without obtaining ``prior written or electronic consent.'' The act was originally intended to protect the privacy of cable TV customers.

Markey, ranking Democrat on the House Commerce subcommittee on telecommunications and the Internet, raised similar questions about possible violations of the 1984 law, writing in his letter that he was concerned about ``the nature and extent of any transgressions of the law that may have resulted in consumer privacy being compromised.'' Markey later commended Comcast for reversing the practice.

Comcast has said customers must agree to the company's subscriber and privacy policies, which give Comcast permission to review usage information ``in aggregate form'' to improve its network speeds.

The 1984 law allows cable operators to collect private information if it can show it needs the information to operate its service. But outside experts, including the vendor whose powerful software Comcast was using, said Comcast was recording more information about the online activities of customers than necessary for the technology enhancements.

``We now know the industry standard is to cache material anonymously,'' said David Sobel, a lawyer for the Washington-based Electronic Privacy Information Center, a civil liberties group. ``What is it about the personally identifiable material that makes this necessary to provide the service? No one has yet come up with an explanation for how that optimizes the service in any way.''

Goren filed the complaint on behalf of a single Comcast customer, Jeffrey Klimas of Royal Oak, Mich. Klimas could not be reached for comment.

Comcast's recording was part of an overhaul requiring new and existing customers to use behind-the-scenes technology known as a ``proxy,'' which funnels a person's Web surfing through powerful, centralized Internet computers controlled by Comcast. Customers previously could volunteer to use the proxy computers, but they were activated automatically for all subscribers under the new system.

To speed performance, these proxy computers retain copies of the most-popular Web sites that customers visit. Comcast said it recorded which were the most popular Web sites to determine which ones it should copy to its centralized computers, although leading industry experts said there was no need to match Web surfing back to the specific Internet addresses of subscribers.

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