Age of the Geek

Two Lousy Tastes That Are Even Lousier Together


     What's worse than two gigantic media companies?

     One even bigger media company.

     And yet here we are, with Comcast trying to absorb its primary "competitor," (I'm using that word incredibly loosely) Time Warner Cable.

     They are the largest and second largest media cable companies in the United States, serving 33 million customers between the two of them.

     "Wow!" I hear you free market champions say, "33 million customers! They must be providing great service to generate that kind of market share!"

     Yeah… about that. Every year Business Insider takes a look at the American Customer Satisfaction Index and disassembles it into a list of the worst companies in the country. Note, not worst media companies. Worst companies overall.

     Comcast has ranked fourth on the list every year since 2011. They are the lowest rated Internet Service Provider, the second lowest ranked TV service, and the third lowest ranked phone service.

     Comcast's unpopularity is only topped by Time Warner Cable, sitting in the number two spot, with the worst television service, worst telephone service, and second worst ISP.

     So how do two of the objectively most hated companies in America maintain a combined market share of 33 million people? Welcome to the oligopoly.

     God bless America, where average broadband speeds are four times slower than in Finland and still cost more.

     Wanna hear the really crazy thing though? The thing that will really make you slap your forehead and say, "Are you kidding me?"

     Comcast and Time Warner's argument to the FCC and Justice Department for allowing the merger is that they are barely in competition in the first place. That there is so little overlap between their customer markets, they wouldn't really be eliminating any competition.

     These cable companies are an inch away from being a cartel already and they are using the results of their collusion to justify their merger to the very people that are supposed to protect us from these kind of business practices in the first place.

     The twisted logic that only exists in the heads of lawyers and CEOs works like this, since they've already skirted around the spirit of anti-trust laws, we may as well ignore them all together.

     Technically, they're right. Collusion in the cable industry has already all but eliminated viable competition between cable companies. You can't deprive consumers of choices if you never offer them in the first place. Stopping the merger won't make Comcast and Time Warner compete for subscribers nor will it make the barrier of entry for potential competitors any less impervious.

     But there is something to be said for not making a broken system even worse.

     More importantly, there's something to be said about not giving what is already the world's largest media company control over more than a third of the nation's cable market.

     You would think there would be a law against this sort of thing and until August of 2009 you would have been right. The FCC once limited each cable provider to no more than 30% of the overall marketplace. It just so happens that a certain cable company (name rhymes with Mom Mast) took the FCC to court and had that particular regulation thrown out.

     That court, by the way, was the Washington D.C. Court of Appeals. The same court that just last month eliminated the FCC's net neutrality regulations, claiming that competition between ISPs would keep everybody honest.

     In what I'm sure is a completely unrelated matter, Comcast and Time Warner together spent $25 million on lobbying in Washington in 2013 alone.

     Now none of this will really effect Iowa directly. As near as I can tell, neither Comcast or Time Warner have a presence in the state, but there is no way Comcast becomes even more of a giant on the playground without it causing problems down the line, be it an increased lobbying presence in Washington or a stronger bargaining position when it comes to dealing with TV networks.

     Travis Fischer is a news writer for Mid-America Publishing and wonders how long it will take for one company to just flat out own everything.