Twilight of the Net

Pipe companies shouldn’t be allowed to own the content that runs on their pipes.

I’ve been saying all along that it’s bad business and that pipe company shareholders are ill-served by their ventures into the content business. But it’s beginning to interfere with the proper operation of the first amendment.

A bunch of really big companies, including Amazon, Microsoft and Disney, are petitioning the FCC not to change the rules that govern cable and DSL access monopolies. They’re afraid these monopolies are going to limit what equipment can be used to connect to the Internet and what content we can see. There is already plenty of evidence that the telcos want a share of Internet content for no other reason than consumers go through their networks to get to it.

Independent producers (and Democratic FCC commissioners) want to keep the FCC from making it easier for distribution oligopolies to squeeze them out. Lawrence Lessig shows us that the squeeze has been going on for a couple of decades already.

Comcast, the largest cable company in the US, won’t permit competitors like DSL companies to advertise on their systems.

In the eighties, the cable monopolies used their clout to get a controlling share of every new cable channel they agreed to carry. The deadening sameness of cable programming isn’t surprising. All the creative decisions were made to please an industry whose core competencies are political payoffs and digging holes in the ground.

Lessig points to an excellent interview with Barry Diller, where Barry says that the guys that own the pipes into our homes are going to end up owning all the content. If the FCC permits pipe companies to discriminate against content in the name of competition, there will be a lot less competition in the content business ten years from now.

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