Fifth Blog Entry Wed Aug 17

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Today I would like to share some potential good news for consumers concerned about media consolidation and reduced competition in the broadband market for high speed Internet access. After AT&T accidentally posted public comments to the FCC proving that it’s merger with T Mobil USA was really about reducing competition and consumer choice, firing workers and raising prices opposition to Ma Bell‘s proposed merger that would set consumers and the wireless market back 30 years is growing. For most of the twentieth century AT&T had a monopoly over wire-line communications in the market for telephone service but its Ma Bell monopoly was fortunately broken up in 1984 by the US Department of Justice Antitrust Division to increase competition and provide consumers more choice. Unfortunately in the 2000s the FCC and US Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division chose to revisit that decision and made a historic mistake when they allowed AT&T to reconstitute Ma Bell by re-merging with two of the original Baby Bells SBC Communications and Bell South that had been part of the Ma Bell system. Now if the mergers involving AT&T Mobility, T Mobil USA and Qualcomm were to proceed it would set consumers and the telecommunications market back another 30 years with AT&T and Verizon Wireless controlling nearly 80% of the wireless market. Effectively AT&T and Verizon Wireless would have a near duopoly of the wireless market for post-paid cellular phone services and the mobile broadband market. Today the wireless market is already an anti competitive oligopoly and the wire-line broadband market for fixed high speed Internet access is a duopoly of big cable and phone companies that has gotten worse with Qwest acquiring US West and now merging with CenturyLink. To allow more consolidation in either the wireless or fixed wire-line markets will result in even fewer consumer choices, higher prices, reduced investment and the potential for more market abuse and ISP discrimination online.

Therefore I oppose Ma Bell’s plans to monopolize the Internet and all our communications technologies. I have seen through their empty rhetoric promising that if their allowed to merge it would magically result in increased consumer choice and that they would provide universal access to broadband. Ma Bell wants to create an anti consumer and anti competitive Ma Cell and they must be stopped before it’s too late.

I also have serious concerns about Time Warner Cable the nation’s second largest cable provider for high speed Internet and digital cable TV service buying Insight Communications the ninth largest cable provider of broadband and digital cable TV service in the country. Previously I have also spoken out against the Comcast NBCU merger that was unfortunately approved For it’s anti competitive and anti consumer harms. However, I am pleased because of it’s approval of that merger that the FCC despite opposition by cable companies is strengthening carriage rules.

I worry about not just telecom companies discriminating online but cable providers as well with cable companies setting up unfair bandwidth caps online to discourage consumers from using services from often smaller competitors providing alternative video related services online. The cable companies cannot offer cheap a la carte programming options nor can the satellite TV providers obligated by programmers to bundle channels by the major broadcast and cable TV networks making consumers pay for channels they may not even watch. To this end they might try two things that might be unfair for consumers. First of all since cable companies also provide broadband in addition to their basic and digital cable services they might discriminate against a la care offerings online by capping the bandwidth of users subscribing to their broadband services but exempt their own services unfairly from competitors. Second create proprietary online services for viewing video online and discourage consumers from cutting the cord by bundling online TV offerings with their paid TV offerings requiring consumers pay for bundled channels.

Already a number of paid TV providers to this end have launched TV Everywhere online services for video requiring authentication so only consumers who subscribe to digital cable or satellite TV that have bundled channels can watch TV online. In fact Time Warner Cable and satellite TV provider Dish Network have created native mobile applications for Apple’s iPad devices to stream live TV channels to Apple’s iPads so you can watch TV also on your iPad. However, since it is part of TV Everywhere you can only watch TV programs using their apps on your iPad if you pay either provider for their TV services. TV Everywhere providers are trying to create a walled garden where you can freely watch live TV streamed to an iPad or other devices as long as you don’t cancel your cable or satellite.

On the issue of broadcast retransmission I often side with the TV providers over the greedy programmers wanting the providers to pay them more each time their retransmission contacts are up for renewal. In fact I have supported Time Warner Cable’s Roll Over or Get Tough web campaign urging them to get tough with programmers as any increase in the fees they have to pay programmers would have to be passed on unfairly to consumers. I have even supported Time Warner Cable’s I Want My TwCable TV app web campaign telling greedy programmers wanting providers to pay them more letting consumers stream programs to an iPad that they should not be double dipping. Instead of price gouging providers and consumers the few greedy TV networks should join the supportive TV networks who are allowing their programs to be streamed by providers to iPads using apps like Time Warner Cable’s TWCable TV app and Dish Network’s DISH Remote Access for no additional fees. After all paying for TV even if you don’t have a DVR/HD DVR and video on demand and/or premium movie channels is still expensive because of bundled channels.

One thing I don’t like in the TV market is the lack of customization of digital cable boxes and satellite TV boxes as you cannot install your own software, change the user interface etc. I have been using Apple Macs with Front Row which was unfortunately discontinued for Mac users in OS X Lion but can continue to use it with my MacBook Pro running Mac OS X Snow Leopard and do plan to do so. I have chosen not to upgrade to Lion so I can keep using Front Row which in my opinion is the best media center software for the Mac available as it has a great user interface. I have also seen Windows Media Center which is more sophisticated than Front Row as it allows users with TV Tuners in their computers to record live TV via Media Center.

Personally I prefer an application called Virtual Dub though when using Windows PCs for capturing and editing TV programs. I like Boxee and the original Apple TV which let’s you sync content to the device as opposed to the new streaming only model of Apple TV. I think streaming is a great idea but the new streaming only modeI of Apple TV is more limited than the original model which I have. I would prefer syncing and streaming as opposed to the new model’s streaming only emphasis. Both the original Apple TV and the new streaming only model use a Front Row like user interface for navigating and accessing content.

I know Dish Network offers their subscribers Google TV but don’t know why anyone even using Dish Network that wants Google TV would pay Dish Network more for having Google TV when they can simply buy a set top box like the Logitech Revue that comes with Google TV software on their own and use it.

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33 Comments

  1. Mergers, in this economy, seem like a necessary evil. If big companies are going under, it beneficial to a degree that they merge with another company to help stay afloat. On the other hand, I do agree that consumer choice if being sacrificed, especially in telecommunications.

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