Wall Street Merger Mania Is Driving Us Toward One Single, Horrible ISP – Probably Named Comcast
from the merge-ALL-the-things dept
Many consumers are still reeling from a Charter, Bright House Networks and Time Warner Cable merger that left users with slower speeds, worse service, and higher prices. Other broadband consumers are still struggling with a bungled Frontier acquisition of Verizon assets that left users with prolonged outages and even worse customer service than the shitshow they already enjoyed. As we’ve seen for decades, this kind of mindless consolidation traditionally only benefits the companies involved, particularly in a market where real competition is in short supply.
This growth for growth’s sake is one of the major reasons Comcast — and its horrible customer service (which didn’t scale with the company’s expansion because that would have cost money) — exists. And Wall Street’s relentless thirst for growth at all costs is a major reason these companies can’t simply focus on being the best “dumb pipes” possible, instead focusing their attentions on expanding into markets they have little expertise in (see Verizon’s ingenious plan to hoover up failed 90s brands and pander to Millennials). When they can’t succeed because they’re out of their depth, they try to tilt the playing field (killing net neutrality).
There’s oodles of history lessons here, and there’s every indication we intend to learn nothing from them. With the ink barely dry on Charter’s troubled deal, and the Trump administration signaling that no merger is too big or too absurd, Wall Street analysts have been positively giddy this year pondering megamergers in telecom that had previously been unthinkable on anti-competitive or antitrust grounds. That has included heavy pushes for a Sprint acquisition of T-Mobile or a Verizon bid to buy Comcast — the massive, obvious anti-competitive impact of both deals be damned.
This week, the merger mania du jour apparently involves a plan that would involve Comcast and French-owned Altice working in concert to buy Charter Communications, whose $180 billion asking price has proven too steep for any one company to contemplate alone (Verizon made a $100 billion offer and was rejected). Citigroup has floated the idea that after acquisition, Comcast could integrate the Time Warner Cable customers they were blocked by regulators from acquiring for anti-competitive reasons, leaving us with one giant cable company to rule us all:
“Charter is pretty much an equal rival in size and scope to Comcast at this point, at least with regards to subscriber numbers. Each company has somewhere in the neighborhood of 25 million customers. For the two to merge outright would leave one dominant cable company in the country, with about half of the entire nation?s subscribers ? from coast to coast, and in many of the states in between ? under a single umbrella.”
Granted there’s no guarantee such a deal will happen. Wall Street stock jocks often like to float rumors then profit off of the herk and jerk of stock prices caused by the half-truths they themselves create. But should Comcast be able to swing such a deal, we could be looking at a supernova of anti-competitive dysfunction, the likes of which made Comcast’s well documented issues seem charming.
Consider that cable’s monopoly was already blossoming thanks to the countless telcos which have effectively stopped trying to compete — in large part because Wall Street thinks spending money to upgrade your networks is a fool’s errand. Then ponder the fact that the current FCC is busy gutting any and all meaningful oversight of these companies, allowing them to inevitably engage in all manner of anti-competitive shenanigans, from arbitrary and punitive usage caps, to net neutrality and privacy violations.
This all may sound like hyperbole, but it’s a future that’s very much under construction. And the folks giddily contemplating the “looming synergies” of such monumental coagulation are building it with absolutely zero concern for the impact on consumers, startups, small businesses or the health of the internet. Telecom sector executives and the folks paid to cheer their every decision have every intention of taking the already dismal Comcast experience, injecting it with steroids, and setting it loose on a market with no organic competitive or regulatory checks and balances. And by the time most notice the negative repercussions, these same folks will already be hyping the next wave of mindless consolidation.