Councilman Lew Fidler let the rage fly when it came to addressing the executives behind the Time/Warner CBS dispute at a recent City Council hearing. A Huffington Post editorial addressing the dispute, which resulted in the blacking out of CBS and Showtime for millions of New Yorkers, highlighted Fidler’s fiery hammering of executives only concerned with “the bottom line,” and not the consumer.
Fidler’s speech, which you should really watch from beginning to end just for sheer entertainment, tapped into all sorts of populist anger, including rage, disbelief and indignation, all directed at, let’s face it, totally greedy corporate scumbags. Huff Post’s Sandi Bachom compared Fidler’s speech to the famous scene from the movie Network, where character Howard Beale is “mad as hell” and “not going to take this anymore!” While Fidler didn’t direct people in the Council chambers to stick their heads out a window and scream, he didn’t mince words when he let the executives involved know how he really feels about them:
The sole purpose of this hearing is for you to understand just how angry your customers are… Not one of you gives a damn about the consumer, not one of you. You care about the bottom line… both of you. Shame on all of you… There is something wrong with all of you. And you want to charge a la carte? Every time I want to watch the Big Bang Theory I have to put 50 cents into the pot?… No one has rabbit ears anymore!
Making the situation even more insidious is the recent assault on the United State’s “net neutrality” laws, which forbids internet service providers (ISPs) from blocking access to certain content. In a must-read editorial by Brian Hedden of Bay Ridge Odyssey, Hedden notes that while ISPs like Time Warner can’t block access to CBS.com, which often provides much of their content for free online, CBS, as a content provider can block certain ISPs from gaining access to their content, in essence, violating the “spirit” of federal net neutrality laws.
Time Warner – the cable TV provider in Bay Ridge – has always been very aggressive with content providers in negotiating rebroadcast fees, same as Cablevision and other American cable TV providers. Aggressive to the point of being dicks. They haven’t been shy about temporarily pulling a station from their TV package as a means of gaining leverage, the consumer be damned.
But they haven’t gone as far as blocking a content provider from their Internet service. Not because they aren’t obnoxious enough… I’m pretty sure they are. But they’re flat out not allowed to block access. In the U.S., net neutrality is the law of the land for Internet service provider. An ISP is obligated to be neutral to what kinds of sites their customers can access, so Time Warner can’t block CBS, or any other site.
Unfortunately, the same principle does not apply to the content providers themselves. There are a number of reasons why an Internet site would block access from certain ISP’s or computer locations.
The point is, cable companies and content providers share a high level of evil in their operations, with no one side being more blameworthy than the other. For me, I have always been outraged how cable companies are granted “exclusive” territories, free to charge whatever they want for their services without fear of competition. Imagine a world where Cablevision had to compete head-to-head with Time Warner. Prices of cable and internet services would plummet as cable companies would probably do anything to keep their customers from freely switching. Instead, the companies enjoy relative government back regional monopolies, free to squeeze as much money as they can out of their consumers all while providing dingy service.
An interview on Diane Rehm’s NPR show with communications policy expert Susan Crawford revealed just how bad American consumers have it when it comes to cable television and internet service:
“If you’re in Boston, San Francisco, Chicago, Philadelphia, really your only choice for wired high-speed Internet access at home is Comcast,” [Crawford] said. “If you move into an apartment in Seoul [South Korea], you have a choice of three different providers, they show up in a day because there’s so much competition, and they charge you $30 for TV and everything. Koreans when they come to the United States… actually laugh at us for how expensive and how slow [American Internet service] is.”
So there you have it, our cable companies are terrible. As a young, computer-savvy guy, I have had the ability to “cut the cord,” except for internet service. I can get all my media online via Netflix and other free streaming services, only having to suffer the minor inconvenience of watching it on my computer screen. Still, not everyone is computer savvy or willing to strain their eyes watching their favorite TV shows and movies on their computers. Most people, deservedly, want to be able to sit on their couch in front of the flat-screens and relax after a brutal day of work. As costs rise and greed wars rage between content providers and cable companies, the consumer is slowly reaching the breaking point over a service that should cost a third of what they are being charged.