Battle Over Comcast Buyout Of ATT Cable Focuses On Service, Spying and
By Steve Zeltzer
Producer Labor Video Project
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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,
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
``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.