It’s amazing how quickly we forget. Up until 1984 there was only one telecom company in the United States and it was known as the Bell System, owned by AT&T. The evidence is still everywhere, I took the photo below just outside of my apartment building.
On January 8th 1982, AT&T and the US Government came to a deal that they would effectively break up the Bell System into 7 “baby-bells,” which would operate as regional telephone companies, creating competition in an otherwise dominated market. It was clear to everyone involved that competition in the market is healthy for consumers and therefore beneficial to the nation. Despite the fact that the evidence of a telecom empire still remains and even though it was only 30 years ago, the FCC seems to be blind to the fact that they’re willingly let it happen again.
The Reign Of Comcast
Fast forward 25 years from the completion of the breakup to December of 2009 when a company called Comcast announced their intention to purchase the majority stake of NBC-Universal, one of the world’s largest broadcasting and production companies. Not only is Comcast now in control of a massive content producing company but they control a massive part of the content distribution channels, two channels, in fact. Of course there is the cable network that they are so well known for, but there’s also the broadband internet service that they provide, which carries a large number of their competitors in the cable game.
Anti-Competitive practices are defined on Wikipedia as “business, government or religious practices that prevent or reduce competition in a market”
With net-neutrality now being the center of attention for many people due to the FCC ruling that now allows for ISPs to determine what network traffic is more worthy than others, it would seem as though the FCC is aiding Comcast and other cable companies in being anti-competitive. In particular Comcast, though, with their ownership of NBC-Universal.
Now, thanks to the FCC being led by a former cable lobbyist, they have ruled in favor of killing net neutrality as it was formally known and taken the spotlight off of Comcast and their attempts to purchase Time Warner Cable. Time Warner Cable is the second largest cable provider in the U.S. with Comcast being the number one. They cover over 66 million people in 29 states across the country.
Why, if we don’t want the phone (or any other) companies to form a monopoly, why would we allow this to happen? With the purchase of Time Warner Cable (not to be confused with Time Warner, the production company), Comcast would have a total subscriber-base of 180 million people, giving them a vast control of not only the Cable industry, with nearly 6 times the subscribers of their next largest competitor, Charter Communications, but also of the ISP industry where their next largest competitor would be AT&T’s U-Verse with 129 million subscribers, who also doesn’t have a great track record when it comes to preserving an open net.
Why Is This So Important?
Well, for starters, internet and cable are becoming inherent competitors with services like Netflix and Hulu gaining so much popularity in recent years. It’s one thing to be a distributor of both services but when you have a vertical monopoly in the cable industry, it’s another thing altogether. The fact that Comcast owns the company that provides content to its direct competitor in content delivery, Netflix, is completely insane! Now, with the FCC finding it completely “legal” to allow ISPs to determine who gets the traffic on the internet, Comcast could just restrict Netflix’s ability to reach their customers thereby destroying their ability to deliver their service and crushing their company anti-competitively, get it?
To learn more about net neutrality, I encourage you to read this blog post from SingleHop, called “A Neutral Guide to Net Neutrality.”
What Can You Do?
As of right now, there are tons of petitions going around to preserve net neutrality and a few more to stop the merger. The best thing you can do for either cause is sign these petitions and talk to your local congressmen. There was a protest to take place according to Google News but the article that was talking about it has since been taken down. The absolute best thing that we can all do is continue to make noise about this subject. Net neutrality is something that everyone who uses the internet and values free information should be concerned about, but somehow we’re still being defeated by the powers that be.