February 26, 2015 — As the net neutrality drama unfolds, there was some recent news that everyone should be tuned in to. There is noise that Comcast and Time Warner Cable want to merge. If that comes to pass, the American consumer will end up as the biggest loser. That means that this new mega-conglomerate will own the OTT landscape and you and I will be locked into only one OTT provider.
If you believe Susan Crawford, a, visiting Harvard Law professor, and frequent thorn in the side of communications service providers (and why shouldn’t you?), Xfinity will be Americans’ only window on the world.
What is the big deal? Well, if this happens, and Comcast’s Xfinity service, which is cloud-based, ends up as the de facto device for set-top boxes, they would control just about all the net access at the consumer level, rendering net neutrality moot.
But the worst part is that our illustrious elected officials recently passed legislation that may just lead to that, much as the way the old Ma Bell once controlled the voice infrastructure. The passage of STELAR quietly put an end to the FCC’s ban on integrated security features in set-top boxes (the CableCARD law). While that seems like a good thing on the surface, there are consumer advocacy groups, such as Freepress, which claim that without the integration ban, consumers have even fewer opportunities to buy their own set-top DVRs and other devices. What’s more, this can, potentially, become a very un-neutral Internet, stifling competition and allowing Comcast to make the rules.
On the plus side, there has been a rising awareness lately, from those who see this as a real threat, and the bandwagon is growing. So now the chance that the merger won’t happen is increasing. But don’t get too excited. AT&T and DirecTV just merged too.
In the end, the FCC really needs to make a just call on this. Regardless of the whining of the mega-entertainment/communication behemoths, the agency should heed the calls to keep the industry competitive … your thoughts?
Ernest Worthman is the editor of Small Cell magazine.