Uber fund-raiser and Comcast Corp. top executive David L. Cohen dined Democratic bigwigs in his Philadelphia home last month to help raise $6.1 million for then-candidate Sen. Barack Obama and the party.
It was the talk of the town and a record-setting fund-raiser in Pennsylvania, Cohen said.
Will it translate into an easier ride in Washington with an Obama administration for the cable giant?
It's not a slam dunk, say industry experts. President-elect Obama was helped in his historic presidential campaign by powerful Comcast opponents who also claim Democratic ties: unions and Internet advocates.
"Surveys show that 60 percent of unorganized workers would like to belong to a union, and that is not happening," said Jeff Miller, spokesman for the Communications Workers of America, or CWA, which represents 700,000 workers, many of them at telecom companies.
"Comcast," Miller added, "is considered an aggressive antiunion company." A 2004 Inquirer article said less than 5 percent of Comcast's workforce, then about 60,000 employees, was represented by a union. The company now employs 100,000.
The CWA and other big unions are emboldened by proposed changes to labor laws that, union officials say, could level the playing field with companies when organizing new locals.
In the Senate, Obama cosponsored the Employee Free Choice Act. People refer to it as the "card check" bill, and it could do away with secret ballots in organizing elections. Instead, workers sign a card saying they would like a union. The card-check bill also sets a timetable for companies to negotiate contracts with newly unionized workers.
Republican and business groups fiercely oppose the card check. It could face a filibuster in the Senate, where the Democrats failed to win a filibuster-blocking 60-vote majority Tuesday.
"Comcast is a pro-employee company and an employer of choice in every community where we do business," said company spokeswoman Sena Fitzmaurice. She cited two national studies where workers strongly preferred secret ballots when voting for union representation.
While unionization is an Old Economy issue,
is a New Economy one. Republicans, in general, oppose net neutrality, and Democrats support it.
Special-interest groups Free Press and Public Knowledge in Washington say network operators should not act as Internet gatekeepers, and they are joined by Internet companies Google Inc., eBay Inc. and others.
Ben Scott, policy director for Free Press, said the group would like a law, or new Federal Communications Commission rules, stating that "the Internet is an open platform and network operators are prohibited from discriminating one Web site from another."
Public Knowledge would like to "re-establish the principle that people who own the network shouldn't play favorites," spokesman Art Brodsky said.
Obama has stated in his policy positions that net neutrality is among his highest technology priorities, Scott and Brodsky said Friday.
Comcast says that it does not favor some Web sites over others and that new Internet regulations could harm its broadband business. The Philadelphia company has invested $50 billion into its network and is the nation's second-largest provider of residential Internet service.
Joe Waz, senior vice president for external affairs and public policy, said net neutrality seemed like a simple idea, but "every simple concept has the propensity to lead to thousands of pages of regulations."
One example Comcast uses to show how the idea of treating all Internet traffic the same can be complicated: an Internet user downloading a movie for future viewing does not have the same urgency to get the data as a person who is watching a live-streaming online video.
Comcast will likely find political allies in the Internet debate with AT&T Inc. and Verizon Communications Inc., which also operate big networks.
Comcast is a clear winner in one Washington area with Tuesday's election.
FCC Chairman Kevin Martin, a Bush-appointee Republican and cable critic, will either resign or relinquish the chairman's title.
Martin was annoyed by the cable industry's refusal to adopt stricter decency standards early in his tenure as FCC chairman. Indeed, while many companies and industries experienced a broad relaxation of federal regulations during the Bush presidency, cable has faced a broadening of regulation under Martin.
This year, Martin investigated Comcast for interfering with BitTorrent Inc. online traffic on the Internet - a prime exhibit, possibly, for net-neutrality advocates in the disputes to come. Martin concluded the investigation with an enforcement order and a public scolding of the cable giant's behavior.
Martin recently opened a new investigation into cable pricing.
Martin's biggest wins against the cable industry came in alliance with Democratic FCC commissioners Jonathan S. Adelstein and Michael Copps. A new Democratic commissioner is expected to be named in 2009.
Comcast said it believed it could work with a Democrat-controlled FCC. "We hope the process has more clarity and transparency and decisions are based on the public record," Fitzmaurice said.