Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Cable broadband needs more competition, not less

The cable television industry doesn't need less competition. It needs more.

That is my complaint against the Comcast merger with Time Warner Cable. Cable TV prices are rising, and the monthly bills I nearly gagged over when I heard about them (as a relatively happy broadcast TV viewer 25 years ago) are now merely routine or even on the cheap side. A lot of factors are driving the rise in cable bills, but lack of competition is clearly one.

My other complaint is that both of these cable behemoths have fought tooth-and-nail against competitors, such as municipal cable systems. When the city of Wilson took the bold move of establishing a fiber-optic cable system with fiber to every residence, the big cable companies screamed. They threw the full weight of their lobbying and political power behind legislation in the North Carolina General Assembly that would have either banned municipal ventures into cable and Internet or would have placed severe restrictions on cities' abilities to launch or complete a cable system. Wilson and other municipalities fought back, but the clout of the cable giants was too great. After a three-year fight, legislators passed legislation limiting municipal systems to those cities that already had a system under way. So Wilson is one of the handful of cities offering high-speed broadband and cable TV services, along with the other utilities most cities provide. (Full disclosure: I am a Wilson Greenlight customer.)

This strangling of potential competitors and a monopolistic merger should not be allowed, but Washington seems incapable of stepping in. The cable companies have plenty of lobbyists in Washington, too.

As other new competitors arise, such as Google's plans for fiber networks in various cities, the lobbyists will have to work overtime to protect the TV-Comcast monopoly. And taking on Google and other software moguls will be more difficult than steamrolling a few upstart municipalities.

Another threat to the cable companies is the shift of TV watching to the Internet as more and more consumers give up cable because they can get what they want to watch over the Internet, right to their big, flat-screen "smart" TV. This threat will affect the municipal cable providers and the Google fiber networks, too, but it is the cable companies that have the most to lose.

1 comment:

surfsalterpath said...

....the Erstwhile Editor is exactly correct~
One of the very few areas government needs to step in and monitor an industry which is out of control.