Saturday, January 25, 2014

Another Comcast Rant

So, what is up with the Comcast Innovation & Technology Center?

The question sounds absurd. I mean, this is Philadelphia. What Comcast says, happens, right? But it's Philadelphia, where three floors aren't erected without neighborhood meetings, protests, and a flyer in Philadelphia Magazine.

So yeah, what's up with that?

The American Commerce Center was proposed without a tenant or a plan, and despite the fact that it was obvious it would never happen, the naysayers came out like an army. How did Comcast push 1121 feet through City Council, NIMBYs, and red tape as old as Ben Franklin with no objection?

Was Comcast working behind the scenes with City Council? It seems unlikely that someone wouldn't have blabbed. With at least ten various renderings of Comcast Center circulating before a final one was approved, a 2014 groundbreaking seems unlikely for an even taller building.

Did Comcast just assume it owns the skyline, that this design would go forward with no resistance? Where are the shadow nuts?

Was Comcast working with Foster for the past year on this specific design? After all, if they expect to break ground in 2014, more than just a few renderings must be complete. That would have been a pricy risk to assume those final plans would be approved. And if they aren't finalized, we have to wonder about the quality of a 1000 foot skyscraper that takes the next six months to engineer.

Maybe this was one of Foster's shelved designs, or a cleaned up version of something that never happened. Did Foster recycle something?

Questions to ponder. However the answers to all are likely "Comcast."

The truth is Comcast virtually owns Philadelphia, City Council, and our skyline. Perhaps neighbors know a fight would be futile. Still, it's disheartening to watch residents come out against casinos and shadows with such furor, rally against local developers like Carl Dranoff and Toll Brothers, even protest corner bars and three story row homes a few feet too high, but when it comes to Comcast, concerned citizens bow to our overlord.

Meanwhile Comcast is preparing to bundle electricity with its cable and telephone packages and is attempting to purchase TimeWarner Cable, which aside from Verizon is its last paralleled competitor.

New jobs are great, but at what cost? How many industries does Comcast plan to acquire before the corporation is synonymous with the United States government?

Comcast's new building, the Innovation & Technology Center is a new symbol of Comcast's innovation. But Comcast's never been known as a company that innovates. Comcast's creative abilities are (broadly speaking) limited to acquisitions and creatively evading anti-trust suits. What will be innovated at the CITC? Will they be leasing 20% of the skyscraper to potential future acquisitions?

All of this returns to what Comcast and Verizon will do to the internet. Net Neutrality was originally one of those rare ideals above partisan politics. It was embraced by the Republican party, supported by President Bush, and preserved laissez faire capitalism in perhaps the one and only place it worked: online.

Today's internet is a barely recognizable descendant of its clunky, dial up ancestors. Eons of generations evolved within a matter of twenty five years, aided by the fact that any virtual company was equally accessible to the world.

Dot coms had to be great to survive, and countless thriving companies came and went. Remember CompuServe,, and Friendster? It was the Gilded Age of technology, a true revolution. The 1990s and early 2000s saw our generation's Vanderbilts rise and fall. New companies would emerge, crash, or get purchased by more successful competitors.

It was risky and challenging, but what kept technology evolving, moving forward, was a level playing field available to anyone with a laptop and an internet connection.

Until now ISPs were never really part of that game. They competed with each other offering faster speeds and connections, but Comcast and Verizon never competed with the content they provided until they started buying up that content.

Despite the insane conflict of interest in companies like Comcast owning NBCUniversal, politics allowed it. Comcast is playing Risk, running some of the nations most powerful television networks, offering access to that content, and spending just as much time in Washington making sure they can continue to get away with it.

When Comcast's pledge to support Net Neutrality expires at the end of the decade, we're going to see a very different internet. One that squashes anyone who dares to register a URL. Lawmakers have allowed the internet to be socialized, turning it over to a few very powerful individuals. What was once a free world of 1s and 0s, tomorrow's internet will be a Soviet wasteland of rationed memory and oppressed ideas.

Queue the theme from Tron.

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