Back in January 2011, I predicted that the Federal Communications Commission’s approval of the Comcast-NBC merger would be a disaster for the consumer.
Allowing the merger of a major cable operator with a major network would undermine the public interest by giving Comcast too much market power. Cable companies are already monopolies in most major metro areas, and that’s especially true when it comes to the increasingly crucial broadband Internet service.
The irony is that Time Warner Cable and CBS are not affiliated, as are Comcast and NBC, but their ruthless treatment of their joint customers just shows even more how derelict the FCC was in allowing the last merger.
As you already know if you’re a Time Warner Cable subscriber, as part of a contract fee dispute, the cable company cut off access to CBS-owned channels Friday. That includes the Showtime pay-TV network. Some CBS programming is normally available online at CBS.com -- but if Time Warner is your Internet provider, CBS has cut off your access to that too. It’s as though these two adversaries are conspiring to use their market power to victimize their customers.
It’s unclear how long this standoff will last, but five minutes is five minutes too many. Responsible telecom providers would have moved heaven and earth to avoid darkening their customers’ screens. Time Warner and CBS both have shown they don’t deserve to be in the marketplace.
This is what happens when monopolistic behavior becomes ingrained in a market while regulators sit on their thumbs. If the FCC had signaled two years ago that it wouldn’t countenance such contemptuous treatment of telecommunications customers -- and backed that up by vetoing the largest merger in the space -- then both Time Warner Cable and CBS would think twice before blacking out paying customers.
The sad fact is that in today’s world of lazy, indifferent government regulation, industry has come to assume that it can walk all over the customer. When will the regulators wake up? The public interest is at stake.