Democrats Propose Rules to Break up Broadband Monopolies

The Democratic party this week released a new party platform — one that proposes new rules that could break up existing broadband monopolies and put an end to often-mindless mergers and consolidation in the telecom space. The proposal was part of a rebranding of the party after its repeated failures in state and federal elections. The proposed rules would also require that regulators look at mergers after they’re completed to see if they served the public interest.

Democrats have been inconsistent on this subject in years’ past.While the Obama administration did block AT&T’s acquisition of T-Mobile (to obvious benefit to consumers), the administration also approved Charter’s $79 billion acquisition of Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks, which ultimately drove up costs for consumers and resulted in even worse customer service.

There’s also the fact that as the minority party, they likely realize there’s a snowball’s chance in hell of such a platform being implemented anytime soon. Still, Democrats are hoping that a more consumer-centric, anti-monopoly message will resonate with voters that have found their previous election choices from both parties not particularly in tune with their interests.

“Right now our antitrust laws are designed to allow huge corporations to merge, padding the pockets of investors but sending costs skyrocketing for everything from cable bills and airline tickets to food and health care,” US Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer wrote in the New York Times. “We are going to fight to allow regulators to break up big companies if they’re hurting consumers and to make it harder for companies to merge if it reduces competition.”

The outline of the Democrats “Better Deal” proposal is here (pdf), and offers a little more detail. The party singled out AT&T’s looming $89 billion acquisition of Time Warner as an example of how so many of these mergers harm consumers and competition longer term.

“If AT&T succeeds in this deal, it will have more power to restrict the content access of its 135 million wireless and 25.5 million pay-TV subscribers,” the Democrats said. “This will only enable the resulting behemoths to promote their own programming, unfairly discriminate against other distributors and their ability to offer highly desired content, and further restrict small businesses from successfully competing in the market.”

The problem traditionally has been that while both parties talk a good game about innovation and broadband competition, politicians are so awash in AT&T, Comcast, Verizon and Charter campaign contributions, meaningful action magically never materializes. That said, by the time current FCC boss Ajit PAi gets done gutting all oversight of some of the least liked and least competitive companies in American industry, it’s possible the political motivation may finally emerge to actually do something about this traditionally-dysfunctional, M&A-obsessed sector, and the consumer disdain that all-too-often passes for customer service.

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