January 14, 2000
|In the Matter of Annual Assessment of the Status of Competition in Markets for the Delivery of Video Programming, CS Docket No. 99-230|
Cable is in the midst of a major transformation, from a platform for the delivery of one-way video programming to a platform for the delivery of a bundle of products, including advanced and two-way services. For many of these services, the cable industry has been driving residential deployment and has begun offering consumers the kind of competitive choice envisioned by the Telecommunications Act of 1996. Cable deserves a great deal of credit for its efforts.
But this Report is not about cable's entry into new markets like Internet access or telephony. Under the Communications Act, this Report is about competition in the market for the delivery of video services. Millions of Americans still rely on plain old one-way video service for their news, information and entertainment. These consumers should not be forgotten in our rush to continue sharpening the cutting edge.
Two things stand out in this year's Report:
First, it appears that widespread video competition, if it comes, will come via satellite and not from terrestrial competition. In particular, incumbent local exchange carriers, which once clamored for the right to offer video (and, indeed, took the issue all the way to the Supreme Court), continue to show limited interest in large-scale entry. Indeed, it appears that Ameritech (now SBC) -- always the "poster child" for LEC video entry -- may be dropping out of the cable business altogether. DBS, by contrast, continues to add subscribers, and, with local broadcast signals now available in many communities, may be on the verge of finally becoming a true alternative to cable for many consumers. We must continue to do whatever we can, within the confines of the law, to strengthen DBS's ability to compete.
Second, the number of distinct programming voices that the public receives is distressingly small. The Report finds that 46 of the top 50 cable networks are owned by twelve large media conglomerates - ABC/Disney, General Electric, CBS, News Corp, Time Warner, Viacom, Discovery, Rainbow Media, Liberty Media, USA Networks, E.W. Scripps and Comcast.(1) And two of the remaining four services are C-Span and C-Span2, which are funded almost exclusively by the cable industry. More disturbing, these same entities also control the top commercial television broadcast networks, dozens of television stations and lesser cable networks, many of the major movie, TV and video production studios, and even the country's largest video rental distributor. Thus, to a significant extent, the video programming that the American public receives is being funneled through a handful of media gatekeepers (not to mention the vast magazine, newspaper, publishing and Internet properties owned by these entities).
These potential bottlenecks should be a concern of all those who care about true competition and the clashing of opinion that is so vital to our democracy. How information is presented and what stories are covered on television - and, often more important, what stories are not covered - has a significant impact on public perceptions and the discussion of public issues. More channels do not necessarily mean that additional views are being expressed. More channels often just mean that the same voices can express their views over and over again.
1. 1Two of these twelve entities, CBS and Viacom, have proposed to merge, which would leave only eleven.