“If Dwight Eisenhower had General Motors and George W Bush had Halliburton, Barrack Obama arguably has Comcast. US presidents are often linked to one or two corporations that donate a lot of money to them and then benefit from their actions. Comcast, which is America’s largest cable television and internet provider and is a near monopolist in most of its large cities, is no exception.” Edward Luce, ‘The corporate tie that binds America to a slow internet”, Financial Times, February 25, 2013
Let us review the evidence concerning the crony-capitalist ties between Obama and Comcast. Comcast’s most influential employee is David Cohen, its senior vice-president and one of President Obama’s largest fund-raisers. Mr Cohen raised several million dollars for Obama in 2012. But Comcast’s relationship with Barack Obama goes much deeper than that. This month, the Federal Communications Commission waived through Comcast’s $16.7 billion purchase of the 49 per cent of NBCUniversal that it did not already own. One of its assets is MSNBC, the liberal mouthpiece for the Obama administration.Two weeks ago, MSNBC hired David Axelrod, Obama’s former chief strategist, and Robert Gibbs, Obama’s former spokesman, as contributors. Jay Leno recently joked: ‘The economy is so bad MSNBC had to lay off 300 Obama spokesmen”.
Why is the strong tie between Obama and Comcast so weak for the nation? Because the rise of Comcast over the past decade parallels the relative decline in internet service in the United States.
In the late 1990′s the US had the fastest speeds and widest market penetration across the globe. Today the US comes in 16th, with an average of 27 megabites per second, compared with up to quadruple that in countries such as Japan and the Netherlands.
In terms of price, the comparison is equally unflattering. The average US cost of 1 Mbps is $1.10 compared with $0.42 in the UK and $0.34 in France. South Koreans joke that when they visit the US, they are taking an internet vacation. Countries such as Estonia, Portugal and Hungary provide a significantly superior internet service. Note that this internet gap did not merit a mention either in Obama’s Inaugural or in his State of the Union address. Surely not, with all those Comcast dollars spilling out of his trouser pockets.
“Countries such as Japan and France have embraced competition to push the rapid adoption of high-speed internet. The US is happy to tolerate duopoly (Comcast is one of two fixed-wire internet providers in 22 of America’s largest 25 cities). As a result, only 7 per cent of American homes are served by fibreoptic wire compared with more than half in South Korea and Japan. It is the difference between a steam train and a bullet train. Yet there is little outcry in Washington.” Edward Luce, ibid.