Earlier today, the FCC and the Justice Department ruled in favor of the merger between Comcast and NBC Universal, creating one of the largest media conglomerates in the world and setting an unadvisable template for one company to combine the power of media and the Internet.
Sen. Al Franken, who has been a lonely critic of the proposed merger, released a caustic statement on the FCC action today:
“The FCC’s action today is a tremendous disappointment. The Commission is supposed to protect the public interest, not corporate interests. But what we see today is an effort by the FCC to appease the very companies it’s charged with regulating. With approval of this merger, the FCC has given a single media conglomerate unprecedented control over the flow of information in America. This will ultimately mean higher cable and Internet bills, fewer independent voices in the media, and less freedom of choice for all American consumers. And it will leave Minnesotans at the mercy of a shrinking number of very powerful media conglomerates.
We count on competition in this country to keep corporations in check, and we have designed antitrust laws to ensure that companies do not become too big or too powerful. I fear this is only the first domino in a cascade to come. By approving this merger, the FCC may have just given a green light to AT&T and Verizon to pursue similar mergers with ABC/Disney or CBS/Viacom. But, this does not mean the fight is over. A growing number of Americans stand behind me ready to fight any further media consolidation of this kind.”
This is the big point. If Comcast and NBC can combine, Verizon and AT&T have a pathway to merge with a media comglomerate and centralize control of a large sector of the market. The explosion of the Internet seemed to be a way to create diversity in the media, with a proliferation of new voices and perspectives. But a Verizon/CBS/Viacom could use the weak net neutrality proposal to deliver their preferred content and slow down competitors on their networks, shrinking the number of voices that can reach large audiences. Like Comcast and NBC, these companies would control the content, and the means to deliver that content. This is no different than movie studios owning the theaters, something that an antitrust ruling rightly took down in 1948. The deal, says Josh Silver of Free Press, “sets the stage for Comcast to turn the Internet into something that looks like cable TV.”
Silver adds that “Comcast-NBC could soon hike up rates, take away your favorite channels or even stop you from watching your favorite shows online.” There’s evidence that Comcast has done this with respect to Netflix by forcing what amount to bribes in exchange for access. This threatens the principle of a diverse media, one which has faded away in recent years. In addition, Comcast will have a means to jack up the prices cable operators pay for NBC-affiliated product, and those higher fees will be passed on to consumers.
It’s a really bad day for those opposed to media consolidation.