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Editorial: Lines in the Sand

Related: Comcast/NBCU Deal: Diversity Divide

Industry critics were quick to jump on Comcast/ NBC Universal’s announcement of expanded diversity initiatives last week, either for not pushing far enough or, in the case of one legislator, for those initiatives only coming under pressure from Congress. The announcement came the same day as a congressional field hearing on the deal.

There was also immediate criticism of an industry effort announced last week that would bring together Google, Microsoft, Comcast, AT&T and others to better define reasonable network management. That is the $64,000 question (or, more to the point, 64 Mbps question) in the FCC’s effort to regulate broadband access while keeping networks from getting clogged.

In both cases, Comcast/NBCU and the telco industry are trying to head off government regulations they see as unnecessary, politically motivated, or a potential drag on their businesses or ability to compete.

But what does it matter to diversity fans (which should be all of us) or those seeking a definition of reasonable network management (ditto) what route the industry takes to those ends? The gantlet of regulation and appeals and legal challenges is a long one, and one the industry has proved skillful at negotiating. The FCC’s authority to regulate network management was brought to a head by an industry-backed lawsuit against the FCC, one the commission lost in a slam dunk.

Maybe it would be better to let the industry come together to advise the FCC so the commission gets it right next time. The agency has said it wanted to tap industry network engineers to help figure out the parameters of reasonable network management. The industry has now made the job easier.

It matters to us that regulation sometimes comes by proxy via the big stick of congressional or regulatory threats that prompt industries to take actions not in their self-interest. But getting the people in the trenches together to come up with suggestions, and tapping the talent pool in diverse communities, is in the interests of both the industry and the country.

There seems to be quite a difference of opinion over how effective and proactive Comcast and NBCU have been on the diversity front. The bottom line is that the companies are making a host of pledges—ones the FCC can hold them to in iron-clad conditions if it chooses—to add new, independent channels with minority ownership, to boost the number of minority businesses they hire, to boost philanthropy, and a lot more.

The question that needs answering is: At what point does the drumbeat of “not enough” or “we don’t trust them” sound like a knee-jerk reaction that cannot be quelled no matter what the companies promise, or deliver?