Do you pay a lot for cable and internet? Neat, me too. Check this out.
You've probably never heard of it, but The Walter Kaitz Foundation is a decades-old non-profit organization with the stated mission of promoting diversity in the cable telecommunications industry.
Every September, the Walter Kaitz Foundation holds a dinner in New York City called the Kaitz Dinner. It's a pretty big social event for the cable industry. Each year, the foundation honors someone as a 'Diversity Advocate' – "an individual outside the cable industry who has demonstrated an unwavering commitment to diversity and has fostered an inclusive environment for the cable telecommunications industry."
This year, that individual is Mignon L. Clyburn – daughter of US Representative Jim Clyburn and current Commissioner at the Federal Communications Commission.
As of right now, one of the biggest topics on the docket of the commission she chairs is the proposed merger of Comcast and Time Warner Cable. You know, that deal that nobody wants. If it goes through, the Comcast-TWC megabeast that emerged would control around 30 percent of the cable TV pool and closer to 40 percent of the high-speed internet market.
As Delara Derakhshani of Consumers Union puts it, “Under this proposed deal, two huge companies would become a behemoth...it’s hard to understand how this kind of concentrated market power is going to benefit consumers.” But that's just one side. Feel free to debate the merger's benefits to customers in the comments.
Anyway, back to this dinner. Turns out, it has some interesting sponsors. And by interesting, I mean completely expected and totally unsurprising. From Politico:
Comcast will pay $110,000 to be a top-level “presenting sponsor” at the Walter Kaitz Foundation’s annual dinner in September, at which Clyburn is receiving the “diversity advocate” award, according to a foundation spokeswoman. Time Warner Cable paid $22,000 in May to the foundation for the same event, according to a Senate lobbying disclosure filed at the end of last month.
TL;DR - Both Comcast and Time Warner Cable are paying to sponsor an event honoring the commissioner of the federal regulatory organization tasked with approving or disapproving their desired merger.
Both Comcast and TWC say that they've been supporting the Walter Kaitz Foundation for many years (which is true) and it's ludicrous to think their contributions have anything to do with "currying favor" (which is surely...something). A Comcast rep had this to say:
“We absolutely dispute the notion that our contributions have anything to do with currying favor with Commissioner Clyburn or any honoree. Such claims are insulting and not supported by any evidence. They are purely fiction. We have supported the organization year in and year out regardless of who the dinner honorees have been.”
Let's play a game where I give Comcast the benefit of the doubt. This is my first time playing this game, so I'm not really sure how to do it. But I'll try, and having done that, I gotta say, this whole thing still looks a bit...incestuous, don't you think? Guys? Any concern about public image?
So, there you go. That's what's going on right now. It's not particularly surprising, and that fact in and of itself is what's truly distressing.
Image via FCC.gov