Monday, February 06, 2006

ISSUE: Concentration in cable industry -- control of "pipes" squeeze independents?

The Center for Creative Voices, a Washington, D.C.-based not-for-profit, reports in its February newsletter on the increasing control of Internet "pipes" by a shrinking number of companies. What are the implications for newspapers and other media when their voices must go through a pipe controlled by a competitor? Should the government prohibit discrimination in carriage based upon content?

Date: Mon, 6 Feb 2006 17:07:30 -0500 (EST)
From: Jonathan Rintels <>
Subject: Creative Voices Newsletter


All, below please find Creative Voices’ newsletter. It’s been a busy few months, as you'll see below. We hope you find it informative and useful.

Creative Voices Demands Pro-Competitive, Pro-Diversity Conditions on Comcast, Time Warner Takeover of Adelphia

Creative Voices has joined the "Competition and Diversity Coalition on the Adelphia Transaction" (CADCAT), which calls on the FCC to protect consumers if Comcast and Time Warner are permitted to takeover Adelphia. Without significant conditions attached to that deal, Comcast and Time Warner Cable will control half of America’s cable homes and have an even tighter chokehold over regional and local markets, solidifying their gatekeeper power over television. Their market power is already so great that when they favor their own networks over independents, as they repeatedly do, the independents are out of business. Thus, they rob not just their own customers, but all Americans of independent and diverse voices and viewpoints. Without significant conditions, this takeover will make a mockery of Congress’s goal of a ‘level playing field’ in cable. It also has the potential to make both Comcast and Time Warner gatekeepers dominating the Internet, as they are two of the nation’! s largest broadband Internet access providers (more on this in the next item).

Creative Voices' 65 page report, Cable’s “Level Playing Field” – Not Level. No Field., is playing an important role in this fight. Recounting the real-life experiences and observations of top players in the cable business, including some of the pioneers who created the cable industry such as Leo Hindery, John Malone, Ted Turner, and Barry Diller, this report documents that the “level playing field" required by law and regulation does not exist today in America’s cable industry. Instead, today's giant cable operators seek to control the content they distribute, whether they deliver it via cable television or broadband Internet. Not only does this endanger independent and diverse creative voices, it poses real threats to free speech, free expression, and, ultimately, democracy and culture. CV’s report has received considerable press coverage, including two November columns in The Philadelphia Inquirer, Comcast’s hometown paper!

The Internet: Open or Closed?

Broadband is rapidly taking over from slow dial-up telephone service as the way Americans access the Internet. But the rules governing broadband are very different. Big Cable and Telephone companies want to use these lax broadband rules to “take over” the Internet. Essentially, their plan is to charge not only their broadband consumer subscribers, but also the websites and services the consumer is trying to reach on the Internet -- like Google, Yahoo, Amazon, and any other website or web service. Those websites and services that pay these broadband gatekeepers higher fees will find it easier to reach consumers and vice versa; those that don’t will receive discriminatory, slower service – that is, if the gatekeeper even permits them to access its broadband customers.

You can see that this would quickly destroy the openness, neutrality, and freedom that we cherish with today’s
Internet. Instead, it would create a closed “walled garden” proprietary Internet designed solely to maximize the
profits of the broadband provider. If we had this closed Internet, would two grad students who came up with a better
search engine ever have it adopted, without advertising and by word of mouth, by hundreds of millions of users? Would that better search engine ever have seen the light of day, let alone become Google?

As creative artists, we’ve seen this closed business model take over both broadcast television and, increasingly,
cable television. Been there, done that, and seen that it is extremely harmful to independence, diversity, creativity,
and free expression. That’s why we are fighting against that closed and concentrated model taking over the Internet, and turning the Net into just another cable TV system, albeit with more channels. For more on how this battle, oft termed “Net Neutrality,” affects creative media artists, see our article posted on our website, “The Future Internet: Open or Closed?”

Jonathan Rintels
Center for Creative Voices in Media (blog)

Center for Creative Voices in Media
1220 L Street, N.W., Suite 100-494
Washington, DC 20005
(202) 448-1517 (voice)
(202) 318-9183 (fax)

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