The new monopolists are not the old monopolists

The U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., last week repealed the long-debated ban that has kept any single cable TV company from offering service to more than 30 percent of TV service subscribers across the country. Though the Federal Communications Commission under Kevin Martin fought to uphold the ban in the name of keeping cable TV companies from forming monopolies that could affect the availability of programming, the court ruled that the anti-competitiveness of letting companies get bigger can't be proven. Does that mean the only way to know a monopoly is to see one in action? That means you can't prevent them; you can only take them apart after the fact (see the old AT&T if you want a model for how to do that).

The cable TV ownership ban, as mentioned, has been long-debated, to the extent that the appeals court has ruled twice before to lift the ban, most recently about eight years ago. The FCC later re-booted it as satellite TV companies and telco TV players were becoming more of a competitive factor, though they're still a nascent group in need of some regulatory help, apparently.

Now, seeing the ban repealed again suggests that telcos and satellite firms have made enough competitive progress that it no longer matters whether or not Comcast or any other cable TV company serves more than 30 percent of the nation's TV subscribers.

Of course, where the telco TV firms are concerned, AT&T, for example, is nowhere near that number itself. Even at its current healthy rate of adding new TV subscribers, it will take many years for AT&T to have as many TV customers has Comcast has now. Telco TV players merely have been effective at penetrating the limited portions of specific markets that they have targeted. If a new age of TV service provider giants is about to take hold, the likes of AT&T and Verizon have much more work ahead of them than the lifting of the ban suggests.

In the long run, they may end up battling a cable TV foe that actually looks a lot more like the old AT&T. I wonder if anyone in the telephone business can relate to that challenge.

-Dan

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