Controlling the Choke Points

Given the Bush administration’s fondness for corporate interests and its disdain for enforcing laws designed to enhance competition, it seems likely that Comcast, the Philadelphia-based cable-TV company, will be permitted to buy AT&T’s cable and broadband unit (AP). Given the natural inclinations of business people, it seems equally likely that customers of these companies will end up considerably less satisfied than shareholders.

The current thinking among the people in charge is that technology moves so quickly that oligopolies, duopolies or even monopolies are constantly under threat. That logic is contrary to the practical reality, notably in the Microsoft situation, but it’s now federal policy.

So we’re on the verge of a new consolidation wave in telecommunications. We’ll end up with oligopolies, at best, in the key industries of the 21st Century.

Yes, you should be unhappy that you’ll pay higher prices to mega-companies that have less competition to worry about. You should recognize a more subtle threat — the decreasing diversity in the mass media, the news and programming that reaches the vast majority of Americans.

It’s worrisome enough that a few big corporations produce most of the news and entertainment people receive today. Now consider how things may be when two or at most three companies could soon control the digital access points to knowledge and entertainment.

This is what the mergers are about. Control the choke points and you win.

I’m not talking about you, of course. You’re just the customer, one of those folks who’ll feel the choking.


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