ADD the AT&T-DirecTV merger proposal to the list of bad ideas before the Federal Communications Commission and the U.S. Department of Justice.
Federal regulators should slow the alarming pace of media consolidation. Fewer companies in the marketplace mean fewer choices and potentially higher costs for American subscribers of cable television, high-speed Internet and telephone service.
AT&T wants to buy the nation’s largest satellite video provider for $48.5 billion. AT&T, the country’s second-largest provider of high-speed Internet, plans to assume $19 billion in debt, a massive debt burden likely to hit customers’ pocketbooks.
Some people might enjoy the convenience of watching more video on smartphones or purchasing bundled packages. But consumers also value innovation, quality service and reliable connectivity. Instead of making investments in expanding and improving broadband access to more customers, consumer advocates warn the AT&T-DirecTV deal symbolizes the telecom industry’s rush to partner up and obliterate competition.
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Last February, the nation’s two largest cable companies and Internet service providers, Comcast and Time Warner, announced a nearly $45 billion plan to merge operations. The U.S. Department of Justice is reviewing the proposal. Meanwhile, more local television stations — and the ad revenue they generate — are being taken over by a handful of conglomerates. As a result, many newsrooms are shrinking.
Company leaders argue changing technology and a desire for increased efficiencies drive consolidation. Regulators must force these corporations to spell out exactly how their plans would preserve competition, as well as how cost savings would be passed on to consumers.
In the bigger picture, the five-member FCC is already grappling with other unresolved issues, such as maintaining net neutrality, auctioning off airwaves and revising television ownership limits.
Federal regulators must take the time to inspect each transaction by the telecom giants. Protect the public interest above all else.
Editorial board members are editorial page editor Kate Riley, Frank A. Blethen, Ryan Blethen, Sharon Pian Chan, Lance Dickie, Jonathan Martin, Erik Smith, Thanh Tan, William K. Blethen (emeritus) and Robert C. Blethen (emeritus).