Federal regulators must take a broad view of public interest when reviewing AT&T’s proposed acquisition of media giant Time Warner.
AT&T’s proposed buyout of Time Warner is another troubling merger that would further consolidate America’s media.
Evidence abounds during this painful election that democracy and discourse are suffering from the decline of traditional news-media organizations.
Misleading and deceptive political rhetoric is widespread. For voters, it can be a challenge to find objective and thorough coverage of candidates, issues and ballot measures.
Media consolidation is a culprit. Past mergers promised synergies and strength but reduced the diversity of voices informing the citizenry. Journalism is weakened when the media becomes concentrated in a few large companies that prioritize shareholder profits over public service.
To make things worse, big media companies are now being swallowed by even larger broadband and wireless companies that control the distribution of digital news and information.
Federal efforts to preserve a level playing field are laudable but face new challenges as AT&T, Comcast and Verizon all become vertically integrated providers of digital access, media and advertising.
All three have experimented with ways to manipulate data pricing to benefit their content, despite the Federal Communications Commission’s net-neutrality rules designed to provide fair and equal network access.
AT&T, for instance, helps its DirecTV subsidiary by exempting its content from the monthly data cap of its wireless subscribers. This disadvantages other content providers that don’t receive, or must pay extra for, such treatment from the network. If the practice extends to Time Warner properties such as CNN, AT&T could in effect prioritize the delivery of its news over other sources.
U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., has proposed a law that would require FCC approval for data caps on internet-service plans and prohibit them from giving preferential treatment based on the content or source of data. He reiterated the concept in a Tuesday letter to the FCC about the potential for such prioritization if AT&T acquires Time Warner.
Also highlighting the need for oversight is a lawsuit filed Wednesday by the Department of Justice alleging that AT&T’s DirecTV sought to restrict the distribution of a Los Angeles sports channel.
The next president — and his or her appointees at the DOJ and FCC — should take a broad view of public interest when he or she reviews the merits and risks of this merger. It’s good that this will happen with the excruciating 2016 election fresh in their minds.