Monday, February 17, 2014

Monstrous Potential

If the news of the potential merger of Comcast and Time Warner Cable didn't have you angry last week - regardless of whether you receive any service from either corporation - it should.

To say the resulting union would simply be an ugly little monster reaching for your wallet would be like saying King Kong was just a little misunderstood monkey. This disastrous merger would actually be more like the 1976 movie "Network", come to life in a terrifying new way.

The cable and telecom oligopoly in the United States is already a perfect example of how modern so-called conservatism is just another smokescreen for the corporatocracy of Wall Street. As Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist David Cay Johnston noted in his 2012 book, "The Fine Print" our cable and telecom companies have carefully worked around the law to make sure they don't truly have to compete with one another.

On the rare occasion when someone like the city of Chattanooga decides to buck that trend, and create real competition - as they did in 2006 - the private sector can't keep up - so they try to win in court. Thankfully, for Chattanooga, Comcast failed in their attempts to shut that whole thing down.

Sadly, Comcast, Time Warner, and the other telecom companies have broadly succeeded in their goal to prevent real competition across America. As a result, America has some of the slowest internet speeds in the developed world, at some of the highest prices.

John Cassidy wrote last week in The New Yorker, "It’s the predictable outcome of Congress bowing to the monopolists, or quasi-monopolists, and allowing them to squelch potential competitors." In other words, this monster corporate baby grabbing at our wallets and purses isn't some kind of rare accident.

As Time Warner Cable's relatively new CEO confirmed just three months ago - when he denied a merger would happen - the merger between the two companies wouldn't be to improve internet speeds, quality of service, or move into new areas. It would be "100% driven by what’s in the best interest of our shareholders." Those shareholders may be seriously disappointed in short order, though. After all, the combined Comcast/Time Warner corporation would control 57% of all cable subscribers, and would far and away have more phone and internet customers than any other U.S corporation.

As Daniel Gross of The Daily Beast noted, why would Comcast improve when they could just buy Time Warner, and sit on their ass?

The fact that both Comcast and Time Warner have a long and embarrassing history of poor customer service, and that a combined company would likely be even worse hasn't escaped notice. Satirist Andy Borowitz blasted the potential merger in his regular column last week in a piece that would be funny, if it might not truly be an example of the future.

Some Americans may think they'd be immune to the effects of this merger, especially those who use satellite TV and only have cell phones for internet. As Farhad Manjoo of The New York Times points out,  they'd be wrong though. The joining together of Time Warner and Comcast - along with the recent decision by a federal appeals court to effectively kill net neutrality - could affect everyone.

In short, with nearly two-thirds of the cable, phone, and internet traffic under its control, Comcast could effectively hold the nation hostage to any pricing demand it wanted. Since Comcast also owns all the networks of NBC, it's highly unlikely you'd hear anything other than corporate-sanctioned propaganda in favor of the merger on any of their stations.

Rep. Anna Eshoo of California has promised to put forward a a bill in the U.S. House to make sure the FCC could continue to keep the internet open and equal. However, we don't think we have to remind either her or you that the House is controlled by Republicans, who frankly, like the CEO's of both Comcast and Time Warner, seem to only have the best interests of Wall Street on their minds, as The Nation's John Nichols reminds us all.

If you've been waiting for a signal to get involved in politics?

When your next cable bill skyrockets through the roof, as the monsterous cable and telecom companies grab for your wallet? We'd say that's a pretty big signal that now's the time.