On cable trends, mergers, WiFi and power outages

Jim BartholdIt's summertime and the livin' would be easy if it weren't for severe thunderstorms spawning alleged tornadoes that knock out power and, more importantly, Comcast Internet/phone service. It's a good time, therefore, to reflect on some of the news that's been pouring out of the cable industry like that sudden rainstorm that, as previously mentioned, knocked out power and Comcast phone/Internet service.

Not that I'm complaining ...

Perhaps, and this will come as a surprise to many who know me, I am a bit naïve but I am truly surprised by the amount of money telecom firms are spending on "lobbying." Millions of dollars in a quarter that could probably be better spent on improving customer service and/or quickly restoring service in the event of a weather-related incident, are being doled out to Washington lobbyists who, in turn, have just pulled back from the government feed trough and gone into business for themselves.

And that's not even the scary part. What are those lobbyists doing with those dollars besides paying for expensive homes in Georgetown? Are they delivering them directly to politicians in plain brown envelopes ("Here, Senator, and don't forget to vote against net neutrality.") or are they simply taking the time to do research and present the facts in a seemly and orderly manner?

More than saying what money is going to lobbyists, shouldn't someone be asking what the lobbyists are doing with the money?

Unfortunately, lobbyists can't climb poles or dig trenches so they're not much help when weather-related incidents knock out service.

* * *

It's hard to feel sorry for a company as big as Comcast, but even the most jaded person has to be watching the NBC Universal acquisition criticism with wide eyes. In the last weeks the normal suspects have lined up to throw stones--satellite providers, small cable operators, unions and minorities, all with just cause--but the parade they're leading has some hangers-on that make it all the less credible.

When kids start posting articles talking about the merger's threat to democracy, things have really reached over the edge.

C'mon, guys, this is a media merger: A big one, to be sure, but a media merger. Let's decide what that means and ask for the appropriate safety measures without the hysteria. Even the FCC (I hope) has the common sense to cut through the rhetoric and get to the facts ... as presented by those highly paid lobbyists, no doubt.

* * *

Lots of news on all sides these days about WiFi which is making a resurgence after being left run over and bleeding on the information superhighway by 3G and 4G. Seems, according to some of the latest reports, that WiFi isn't a bad way to get lots of data over lots of devices without further impacting the mobile networks and eating into valuable mobile minutes. Even AT&T is admitting as much, noting that its WiFi business is going up even as its wireline business is going down.

The problem with WiFi, however, is that somewhere, somehow, it's inevitably connected to wires which can be knocked down in weather-related incidents which leave customers unable to access their data no matter what devices they use.

Ed. note: Jim Barthold is pretty happy with his Verizon Wireless service, especially on the Monday after a sudden storm that knocks out power and Comcast phone/Internet service, forcing him to file his stories via Blackberry. Not that he's complaining. -- Samantha

Related articles:
Another party heard from as young people question Comcast-NBCU merger
The best government money can buy: lobbying a profitable business

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