Hurray for the internet, the Comcast-Time Warner Cable deal is dead. Right? We dodged a megacorporation-sized bullet, but the internet is just as broken today as it was yesterday.
The death of the deal is being rightly heralded as a good thing for consumers. Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler puts it succinctly:
Comcast and Time Warner Cable’s decision to end Comcast’s proposed acquisition of Time Warner Cable is in the best interests of consumers. The proposed transaction would have created a company with the most broadband and the video subscribers in the nation alongside the ownership of significant programming interests.
According to opponents, the merged companies would have controlled 50-percent fo the country’s broadband. This crude GIF cobbled together a year ago gives you a sense for just how extensive the cable giants’ merged broadband footprint would have been.:
The FCC and Department of Justice both rightly expressed concerns over the deal’s potential to make the market even less competitive, and made it clear that they would get in the way of any attempts to merge, setting the stage for today’s announcement that the deal is caput.
So we can put fears of a Comwarnercablecast Corp stranglehold on your internet access and jacking up prices for shoddy service willy-nilly. Still, it’s shortsighted to suggest, as one opportunistic release that landed in my inbox does, that this is a “tremendous victory.”
The status quo—a gross lack of broadband competition in the US—still remains, and with it the same, shitty, slow, broken internet infrastructure we had before, without a clear vision for how it’s going to be fixed.
Both cable companies are still quasi-monopolies in certain markets, with little incentive to invest in infrastructure. Consumer studies show that they’re among the country’s most hated companies. If you’ve ever called Comcast or Time Warner and asked why your internet is garbage, or tried to get them to fix your garbage internet, you know that customer service is, well, garbage.
Earlier this year, the FCC took the important step of reclassifying broadband internet as a utility, which helps protect consumers from predatory practice. Great, although, as Alex Pareene noted, the broadband oligarchy was brushed back largely at the behest of the new tech company oligarchy.
There’s some hope for respite from startups. It’ll probably never come to my apartment in Brooklyn, Google’s investing in high-speed fiber in smaller cities across the country. (A Google owned and operated infrastructure is a problem we should probably worry about.) And as my colleague Adam Estes pointed out a while back in his post about the broken internet, startups are figuring out ways to get around the cost burden for laying fiber. For example, a company called Monkeybrains beams fiber access directly to homes through a roof-mounted wireless receivers.
The startups are going to be important because, flatly, consumer protection in the existing broadband market doesn’t really exist, or else there would be real competition, and you wouldn’t be paying high prices to the most hated companies in America for the right to access antiquated infrastructure.
So huzzah, the government impeded the rise of a telecom behemoth, but the internet is still terrible. Excuse my while I restart my router, I need to pay my Time Warner Cable bill.
Illustration by Jim Cooke