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Big Media Consolidation Presents Big Problems

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By Rick Manning  |  AT&T and Time Warner were just given the green light to merge over Americans for Limited Government’s vigorous objections, but what does this mean for the everyday American?

As big media consolidation continues to threaten market competition and free speech, not to mention monopolize the telecommunications industry, it has become overwhelmingly clear that the industry’s biggest offender, Comcast-NBCU, needs to be reined in before [it] continue[s] to wreak havoc on the marketplace.

As massive media conglomerates persevere in their quest to monopolize the industry, it is important to realize what this means for alternative viewpoints in media and the already overwhelming effort to hush voices these media giants consider outside the mainstream. Differing ideas and perspectives are what make up the very fabric of this great nation, and if we’re not careful with putting too much power in the hands of too few, this could all disappear.

When Comcast and NBC merged in 2011, restrictions were placed upon them to keep them in check, mainly to ensure they would not treat competitors or consumers unfairly. As a distributor that would now own the rights to NBC programming, Comcast would have both the incentive and ability to withhold “must have” programming from other smaller distributors, or prioritize NBC programming over other local, alternative programming.

Under these conditions, Comcast was required to submit to arbitration should disputes arise over pricing and conditions of programming agreements. With such conditions either having already expired, or set to expire, Comcast is about to be cut loose, and an unleashed Comcast will have a long list of repercussions for consumers and competitors in the marketplace — mainly concerning their ability to discriminate, attempt to diminish American companies’ and consumers’ right to free speech, or even exert their newfound influence in politics.

Since the Comcast-NBCU merger in 2011, they have proven time and time again that they are not beneath stifling competition or other viewpoints that may not line up with their own. In fact, not only are they not beneath it, there is ample evidence that points to Comcast repeatedly doing so.

Take Bloomberg TV, for example. Comcast’s conditions stipulated that they place Bloomberg programming next to MSNBC and CNBC, or other competing news channels such as Fox or CNN, in the channel lineup — yet for three years Bloomberg was blocked from the news channel neighborhood and slotted in an unfavorable spot, which negatively affected their viewership.

As Comcast continually looks to get bigger and bigger, they are using their undue influence in the marketplace as a mechanism to control the entire industry — stepping on anyone who gets in their way. As they keep swallowing up their competition, they continue to have a larger, more intense grasp on the market, which can only lead to a dangerous fallout.

While an individual federal court judge allowed the AT&T Time Warner merger to go through, it is likely that the issues raised about the dangers of vertical integration of media and its harmful effect on freedom of speech and market competition will be taken all the way to the Supreme Court.

Media Don’t Play By Rules

It is also important to note that AT&T/Time Warner were not given the go ahead to merge without the implementation of conditions that would ensure they do not force their competitors out of the market, or raise prices.

Because Comcast continues to exert its dominance within the industry, essentially bullying its competitors and in turn, diluting diversity of thought, it is imperative that restrictions be reinstated.

While Americans for Limited Government will continue to fight the danger to freedom that the AT&T/Time Warner style vertical integration represents, it is important that even if we lose, massive media conglomerates be held accountable and follow the rules. Even with these simple stipulations in place, Comcast had a more than difficult time complying.

Freedom of speech should apply to all political viewpoints, not just the loudest voices amplified by left-leaning Comcast and their mainstream media cronies. The bottom line: the last thing this country needs is an unleashed Comcast.

As originally published in Investor’s Business Daily.

Rick Manning is President of Americans for Limited Government.

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