Wednesday, December 17, 2014

AT&T and Comcast Violate the First Rule of Regulation During a Pending Acquisition

              One would think AT&T and Comcast would be on their best behavior while the FCC considers the merits of multi-billion dollar acquisitions of DirecTV and Time Warner Cable.
Why come across to the court of public opinion as greedy, small-minded and mean-spirited?  Why provide opponents with evidence of just how uncompetitive the marketplace is?

            What was AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson thinking when he threatened to reduce capital expenditure on next generation networks on grounds that the FCC might impose greater regulation?  See AT&T to “pause” 100-city fiber buildout because of net neutrality rules; available at: http://arstechnica.com/business/2014/11/att-to-pause-100-city-fiber-buildout-because-of-net-neutrality-rules/.  He probably was attempting to blame “regulatory uncertainty” as grounds for reducing investment in plant.  To my mind, he comes across as showing the absence of competitive necessity to build out the AT&T network as quickly as possible.  The company can try to leverage investment as a reward to the FCC and the public for retaining possibly inadequate and ineffectual regulation.  Such a generous and noble consolation prize.

            Comcast goes one step further in violating the rule requiring a low profile.  The company has doubled its broadcast signal carriage fee in many markets.  This comes across as both sneaky and not cost-based. It’s sneaky, because the company recently created and now doubled a new line item that consumers might infer as required by government, or as some kind of legitimate cost-pass through, somehow not covered by the overall cost of doing business.  It’s not cost-based, because retransmission consent costs have not doubled in the last year and the company charges the same amount regardless of the number of local signals it carries.  In simple terms Comcast has raised rates at time when it probably should not do so, unless it has such a low opinion of our ability to decode the impact of a 100% increase in its “Broadcast TV Fee.”

            The fact that AT&T can threaten to ration or cut capital expenditure and Comcast can raise rates may mean that both companies see no need in playing nice during the pendency of it 90+ billion dollar acquisitions.  Fine, but don’t tell us how hard you have to work to stay competitive and how your mergers are essential for your continuing ability to serve.

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