CFA: FCC Needs to Rein in Media Oligarchs

Says more than just blocking AT&T-TW is needed; cites raft of FCC items

The Consumer Federation of America is strongly opposed to the AT&T-Time Warner merger, which is no surprise, and it is using the presence of four already consolidated media companies, including AT&T, to  push for a quartet of items currently before the FCC.

CFA issues a new paper suggesting the media industry is a "tight oligopoly on steroids" -- AT&T, Verizon, Comcast and Charter -- that needs repairing through those industry actions.

CFA said disallowing any further consolidation through an AT&T-TW merger is a no brainer, but that trying to break up the others, though likely its preference, could take "decades of litigation" that might or might not bear fruit or, in this case, pare the trees.

What's a consolidation critic to do?

CFA research director Mark Cooper said try to ensure that the "already mammoth" firms can't ride roughshod over the content and applications that ride over them.

That means the FCC should (1) approve its set-top revamp proposal (it has been circulated to the commissioners for a vote); (2) take action against zero-rating plans that give affiliates of those networks a price advantage (the FCC is investigating the plans but has yet to weigh in); (3) approve broadband privacy regs (the FCC is scheduled to vote on them Oct. 27); (4) and approve the business data services item (it has been circulated to the commissioners for a vote) to promote price and service competition in the crucial business-to-business broadband market.

“Stopping dangerous mergers is often not enough to open markets to effective competition," Cooper said. "Regulatory action to open markets must go hand in hand with tough antitrust enforcement to deliver the innovation and lower prices that consumers deserve."