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Media Mergers Leave Fewer Options for Consumers

PHOTO: Media mergers aren't as simple as changing the channel on your TV, and media watchdog groups warn those takeovers are usually bad for consumers. Photo credit: Greg Stotelmyer.
PHOTO: Media mergers aren't as simple as changing the channel on your TV, and media watchdog groups warn those takeovers are usually bad for consumers. Photo credit: Greg Stotelmyer.
August 12, 2014

BOWLING GREEN, Ky. - Comcast and Time Warner Cable are two of the largest cable TV and internet providers in the nation, and Comcast wants to acquire Time Warner. Sprint and T-Mobile are the third and fourth-largest wireless providers in the U.S., and Sprint pursued a merge with T-Mobile until abandoning the idea late last week.

John Bergmayer, senior staff attorney with the media watchdog group Public Knowledge, is skeptical of the end result for the public should 'super-size' corporate deals like these come to pass. He says the primary reason is these proposed mega-deals would reduce the competition that keeps prices down, service decent and content diverse.

"As the Department of Justice and the FCC found when they blocked the merger of AT&T and T-Mobile, you need a certain number of competitors to ensure a market is actually competitive," says Bergmayer.

Other consumer advocates point out that mergers seldom address the needs of communities of color, which are historically under-represented in media ownership and control. Bergmayer predicts with enough public pushback, government agencies could be convinced to block attempts at media "empire-building."

Betty Yu, Media Action Grassroots Network coordinator with the Center for Media Justice, says her organization takes the general view media mergers are always bad for consumers, and customers are always on the losing side.

"People of color make up about 30 percent of the population, but we barely own any real media infrastructure," says Yu. "We know how this affects how issues like labor and education or health care and the environment are covered for poor people, working people and people of color."

Bergmayer says the merger that "frightens" him the most is Comcast and Time Warner Cable. He says with NBC and NBC News already owned by Comcast, their domination of cable would affect everything from news coverage to entertainment programming.

"Comcast plus Time Warner will be so big they can essentially make or break any independent programming," says Bergmayer. "You're creating a single gatekeeper that really determines what's going to be the successful video content, nationwide."

Greg Stotelmyer , Public News Service - KY