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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

If We Work Really Hard, Maybe We Can Stop This

It is now clear that many folks were waving red flags about the rampant greed and corruption that finally laid waste to our economy over a year ago. Those folks were ignored, but surely we have learned to pay more attention to similar warnings. Surely we are ready to take action against greed before it creates another tsunami which threatens to wash us off our island. If so, I have a red flag to wave.

It has now been a year since we were forced to start paying broadcasters like WBKO for the privilege of putting up an antenna and picking up the signals they send through the air over our homes and businesses (and the last time I checked, that air belongs to us not the broadcast television stations). The people of Glasgow will pay about $150,000 this year to receive broadcast programming which had been free since the beginning of broadcast television. In fact, this year we will pay nearly $40,000 of that to just one broadcast station, WBKO in Bowling Green! We have two more years left on the three year agreements which created these ransom payments.

Every time I sign one of those checks I am enraged, but I see even more ominous clouds on the horizon. Forget about waving a red flag. Our local outdoor warning sirens should be going off to warn us of the likely merger of Comcast Cable and NBC Universal! Comcast is the largest cable system operator in the country serving about 25 million cable customers. That means they are already a financial behemoth and a darling of our friendly “money changers” in the temple of Wall Street. They also already own a significant number of the channels they carry on those cable systems. Those services include: E! Entertainment, Style Network, Versus, The Golf Channel, and G4. While significant, these are not the most popular channels on any cable system. So, if they jacked up the rates on these channels, no one would feel particularly put upon if their cable operator simply dropped them. Such would not be the case if Comcast is allowed to merge with NBC Universal. Then they would control services like: Bravo, CNBC, MSNBC, NBC Sports, Oxygen, and USA Networks. Comcast would also own Universal Pictures, which releases several blockbuster movies per year. It would also own stakes in web sites including Hulu and iVillage.

So, at the end of this contract period, since Glasgow EPB is municipally owned and not on the list of companies that will be getting a Christmas card from Comcast, what might it cost us to carry NBC broadcast stations? How much might we have to pay to see the Olympics or anything else on NBC Sports? A few years ago Stephen Colbert did a great “news” piece on AT&T and how it was finally broken up by our government’s anti-trust regulators, only to slowly reassemble itself so that it is bigger and more monopolistic than ever. Click here to see that hilarious video. Comcast is threatening to rival AT&T in its size and economic power. It is amazing to me that so many of us are still railing against “big government regulation” when it is small and weak government oversight that resulted in the economic mess we are in today and continues to promise more of the same if they allow themselves to be run over and out maneuvered by companies like Comcast. Do we need more mergers like this one or do we need less cooperation between giant companies like Comcast and NBC Universal?

I say we need to stop this merger in its tracks.