Something really bad is about to happen to us. I guess that’s true most days, but this time it’s not a Democratic debacle or a Republican fiasco or a Tea Party disaster, so you can’t just settle comfortably into your FoxNews or MSNBC niche and await further instructions from Sean Hannity or Rachel Maddow. Although…it is kind of about television, who owns it, and who decides what you watch.
You’ve undoubtedly heard that there’s a merger in the works. Comcast wants to purchase Time-Warner for $40 billion. That’s a four with ten zeros after it—in case you haven’t written this on a deposit slip lately. After said purchase Comcast will control about 30% of the TV market and 40% of Internet access. Now companies don’t spend $40 billion without some certainty that they can eventually make more than that. It’s an investment, and the investment will be financed by the people with shallow pockets—you and me—but there are so many of us that the pockets might as well be…well they might as well be the Mariana Trench.
Even without Time Warner, Comcast has been raising our cable bills unabated for decades. Lest we think the merger might in some way benefit us, the new giant—which hasn’t even been born yet—has already stated there will no decrease in monthly bills, and won’t even promise any decreases in the rate of increases. Points for honesty, Time-Warner-Comcast. No points for us. And if we’re not offended in our bank accounts, we should be offended in our intellects. A country like ours depends upon the free exchange of ideas, even ideas that most of us find distasteful. House of Cards, for instance, manifests Washington and many of its players in a most abhorrent light. But what if Netflix’s next series exposed similar corruption in the cable TV business, pointed out the huge profits and unconscionable bonuses, brought to light the chicanery, the duplicity, the gouging and monopolizing? How would we get to see that when Comcast decides Netflix will no longer be accessible because of some “price structure” Comcast won’t accept? And what would be the motivation for Netflix even to produce such a series and bite the hand that bites it…but only bites it occasionally?
One way or another, we lose.
And we probably lose even if we all rise up and demand that this merger never take place, but I don’t think we lose as badly. We might at least salvage some of that self-respect we seem willing to give away every time we complain about our cable bill, then quietly pay it. Writing to a legislator is a quaint throwback to a previous century, but this might be a good time to resurrect the practice. It’s your money, and soon enough your intellectual freedom also.