March 26, 2014 could potentially be a significant date to circle on your calendar. That is the day when the proposed Comcast/Time Warner merger goes in front of Senate. The proposed $45.2 billion dollar merger will be scrutinized to see the impact it will have on the consumers. Beyond the potential vice grip Comcast would have on the Eastern part of the United States, net neutrality will be a key focus as the issue focuses in on net neutrality and the accessibility to the Internet for every citizen. Prices for cable and internet services have skyrocketed, with no signs of a ceiling in sight. If there is only one major player left in the game, who is there to stop them from ever changing course?
Many experts claim that the merger is illegal by the government's own standards. While this may be the case, it is the duty of the citizens, mainly in the eastern part of the country, to speak up if they truly wish for this merger to fail. As the issue comes closer to a head there are two main factors heading in to March 26th.
Monopoly - What Could Happen?
As previously stated, experts and most people on the east coast agree that this is a monopoly in the making. While this group hopes Senate will agree, anything can happen. What is true at the moment is that the majority of Comcast and Time Warner customers agree that service is not all that great. According to a recent American Customer Satisfaction Index report, the results are mixed but never positive. In the cable television department, Time Warner ranks at an industry low 60%. When it came to Internet service Time Warner was not much better at a near-industry low 63%, second lowest to Comcast's 62%.
This may be an indication as to why many are already fearful without ever even thinking of the other long-term effects. Contrary to a recent statement from Comcast, Not many people are expecting an improvement in service. Neither company has given anyone a reason to believe in these companies. If the merger were to go through, the entire east coast from Maine down to Florida and a large part of the eastern United States would be under the guise of one pay TV and Internet provider.
While services like Google Fiber, Verizon Fios and other local providers are becoming attractive options in more and more markets, the east is dominated by these two massive providers. This plays a large part in why these services are slow or unwilling to even try to penetrate the northeastern part of the U.S.
In almost a decade, prices have leapt to astronomical levels. What once was a utility bill in the $10-$30 range is now becoming a $100 or more utility bill each month. On the basis of price alone, many subscribers are scared for their TV and Internet future. If these prices climb, the less affluent of America could face a future where they don't have the ability to pay all their bills each month. If pay cable and broadband Internet is the utility they chose to eliminate these families face a drastic reduction in access to the world through the Internet.
This may seem like an overreaction, but just imagine trying, in this day and age, to gain access to up-to-date information without a computer that can access the Internet. Families will be shut off, and education stunted for students trying to learn. This can be any source of information, from academic articles to message boards with friends around the world. It may be scoffed at, but the Internet is vital to the existence of a thriving individual, especially a developing young mind.
A hotly contested issue for the last few years has been between the FCC and net neutrality rules. When Verizon Communications Inc. took on the FCC in the U.S. Court of Appeals, the FCC-proposed net neutrality rules were shot down. Now, with Comcast potentially controlling a third of all broadband subscribers in the U.S. the FCC may be the one to step in and advocate government legislation and intervention in this pressing matter before matters get worse.
If data begins to be treated differentially, a slippery slope would be created with a little recourse to come back from. While Comcast agreed to net neutrality rules under the NBCUniversal deal of 2011, that does not ensure the agreement will be honored in the future. Recently, the Chattanooga and Atlanta Comcast markets have become subjects of data-use thresholds. Comcast Executive Vice President tried to silence the issue recently, "We’re not discriminating against services we don’t own...Because many of the services we do own also count against the data usage thresholds.” Although Comcast-owned services are included, many are already wondering if the times are beginning to change. If they are, the merger might only steepen the slope.
Companies like Netflix have already vowed to protest any such action, though Netflix has also found itself forced to pay for preferential access to Comcast’s servers in an effort to improve its streaming quality. However, many believe this issue can be skirted if the merger were to fall apart.
As March 26th creeps closer, the call to action can't get much louder for the opposition. Forbes and others believe it's just hype from the bloggers and media. Now may be the time when we find out where each person stands. Or this may just be another example of apathy from the American public once a call to action is made. While many are voicing their concerns, it remains to be seen how this will all play out. Comcast, the government and the American people all will play a significant role in determining what could be a monumental merger for the future of the United States.