Friday, January 21, 2011

Promises, Promises

"I strongly favor diversity of ownership of outlets and protection against the excessive concentration of power in the hands of any one corporation, interest or small group. I strongly believe that all citizens should be able to receive information from the broadest range of sources.There is a clear need in this country for the reinvigoration of antitrust enforcement. ... to step up review of merger activity and take effective action to stop or restructure those mergers that are likely to harm consumer welfare." Barack Obama June 2008

"The most important thing we can probably do is to preserve the diversity that's emerging through the Internet...something called net neutrality," he declared in April 2008. "I will take a backseat to no one in my commitment to network neutrality." Barack Obama April 2008

"If crimes have been committed, they should be investigated." Barack Obama April 2008

In 1974 the Department of Justice filed an antitrust lawsuit against AT&T, which at the time was a considered a regulated natural monopoly (where the largest supplier in an industry has an overwhelming cost advantage over other actual and potential competitors), dominating the telecommunication market in the United States, controlling both the local and long distance telephone services. At its peak in the 1950s and 1960s, it employed one million people and its revenue was roughly $300 billion annually in 2006 dollars. Through it's immense Western Electric subsidiary, AT&T would not sell the physical telephones it manufactured, they were owned by the 7 regional telephone companies which the parent corporation owned and controlled, and were leased to it's customers on a monthly basis, who generally paid for their phone and its connection many times over in cumulative lease fees.
"For most of the 20th century, AT&T subsidiary AT&T Long Lines thus enjoyed a near-total monopoly on long distance telephone service in the United States. AT&T also controlled 22 Bell Operating Companies which provided local telephone service to most of the United States. While there were many "independent telephone companies", General Telephone being the most significant, the Bell System was far larger than all the others, and widely considered a monopoly itself." -Wikipedia
The result of United States v. AT&T, which was settled in 1982, was the breakup of AT&T into the 7 regional local telephone companies (known as Baby Bells), each becoming an independent entity in themselves, with AT&T remaining in the long distance service business.
At the time AT&T was huge, what many would call today "too big to fail." Yet it indeed failed, in so that it was taken apart by legal processes within the federal government in a bold, courageous action administered under the Nixon and Ford presidencies. There are many entities on Wall Street now, banking interests such as Goldman Sachs, that are considered to big to fail, or even tamper with. Due to the malfeasance and greed of many of these interests the financial crisis of 2007 ensued, causing exceedingly more harm to the nation than any threat posed by the manipulative policies of the AT&T monopoly, yet the Bush and Obama administrations have done nothing to curb their power. Indeed they are making record profits, doling out tens of billions of dollars in bonuses to their executive class, many who should have been investigated and prosecuted under law for the practices they followed which precipitated the crisis, leaving the rest of the country in financial ruin, home foreclosure at record highs, states having to cut social services to a minimum due to budget short falls. For example, I heard just last night that Camden, New Jersey has had to cut it's police force in half, and it's fire department by one third.
The Sherman Antitrust Act, passed in 1890, was instituted to oppose the combination of entities that could potentially harm competition, such as monopolies or cartels. The law attempts to prevent the artificial raising of prices by restriction of trade or supply.
The act has been misused in the past by the government by breaking up union strikes for instance. However the spirit of the law is quite clear, to ensure a completive environment which ultimately is good for American businesses and the consumer. It is a tool, already on the books for over a century, yet it has been ignored.
This week the Federal Communication Commission approved a $30 billion merger between Comcast, the largest cable operator and home Internet service provider in the United States, and NBC/Universal, the media and entertainment company previously controlled by General Electric. The FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski approved the merger last month stating it will be good for consumers as Comcast promised to contribute more local news and informational programming on some channels, more programming aimed at children and minorities, and a $9.95 broadband Internet service for low income households.
Really. What would any of that have to do with ensuring the American consumer is protected against unwarranted service price hikes the new company could issue at it's whim? You know that is what the FCC was created for, to protect the American consumer and public, not the interests of big business.
Free Press has described some of the salient aspects of the merger:
"Comcast, the nation's largest cable and residential broadband provider, to take control of NBC Universal, a major content provider and the owner of national English- and Spanish-language broadcast networks, more than two dozen local TV stations, numerous cable news and entertainment channels, and movie studios. With the FCC's blessing, Comcast-NBC will now control one in every five television viewing hours."
The merger approval was reached after a 4-1 vote, with Commissioner Michael Copps dissenting. He doesn't believe the bringing together of the two giant companies is such a great idea:
The deal "reaches into virtually every corner of our media and digital landscapes and will affect every citizen in the land," Copps said in a statement. "All the majority’s efforts — diligent though they were — to ameliorate these harms cannot mask the truth that this Comcast-NBCU joint venture grievously fails the public interest."
Neither does Free Press President and CEO Josh Silver:
"Today’s decision by the FCC represents a failure of the agency to live up to its own public interest mandate, as well as Barack Obama’s promise to promote media diversity and prevent excessive media concentration. This deal will give Comcast unprecedented control over both media content and the physical network that delivers it. The FCC has opened Pandora’s Box, and we can soon expect a whole new swarm of mega-mergers that will have dire consequences for media and the Internet."
Senator Al Franken seems to agree:
"I believe we are facing and will continue to face a growing threat of corporate control on the flow of information in our country."
Last month this same FCC approved new rules regarding Internet Neutrality, the idea the everyone has equal access to the web.
"These rules are not strong enough," Franken said, pointing to what he considers to be weak provisions concerning wireless, as well as the lack of a flat-out ban on paid prioritization. "This is the first time the FCC has ever allowed discrimination on the Internet. "The FCC's new rule, to me, is a big disappointment," Franken said. "We expected better from this commission and this chairman, who promised that net neutrality would be a priority. My only hope here is that this is just a first step and the FCC will go after every single company that violates the letter or spirit of this rule."
Continuing concentration of media power into fewer hands, weak net neutrality rules, broken promises concerning universal health care, a consumer protection agency that has yet to emerge and that has a bullseye target painted on its back by the new Republican House Majority who wants to choke it to death by under funding it. Gitmo is still open. The Bush tax cuts for the rich. Government transparency, bringing the operatives of the previous administration responsible for torturing as a national policy to justice, even after they flat out admitted to war crimes on national television. All of these promises made by Barack Obama during the 2008 campaign have been broken or ignored.
When I voted for Obama I had hoped for a transformative change in the way Washington got things done, the kind of changes FDR was responsible for when he pulled the country out of the Great Depression, the change we could believe in that he had promised to us.
But I've seen little change that I can belive in. Instead I see the same old way of doing things, the same old lies and submission to large business interests that really rule the United States.
Change we can believe in.
Just another broken promise.

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