Michael Powell served as Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission from 2001 to 2005. During his tenure in office, Mr. Powell presided over a vast expansion in media consolidation, the concentration of media power in fewer and fewer hands. The result is that today, the overwhelming majority of American media – everything from broadcast, cable, and satellite TV, movie studios, and radio stations to newspapers, magazines, book publishing firms, outdoor advertising companies, amusement parks and, increasingly, Internet content – are controlled by one of five companies: ABC-Disney, Viacom/CBS, Fox/News Corp, Time Warner, and Comcast-NBCUniversal (which bought out General Electric’s shares in media last year). By one estimate, today these five members of the media cartel control approximately 90% of everything Americans see, hear, and read.
Shortly after leaving the FCC, Mr. Powell was hired to head the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, the major trade lobbying group for the entertainment cartel’s cable interests. Thus, the man who was once in charge of regulating the media is now advocating for it.
In a recent interview in Multichannel News, Powell said of his role at the NCTA that he is dedicated to “building a better America and a better life for our countrymen…I say a prayer every night for good customer care [and] content we can be proud of.”
One wonders whether the “content we can be proud of” includes programming like the former Arts & Entertainment network’s new serial killer drama Bates Motel; Lifetime’s paean to prostitution The Client List; FX’s grotesquely gory and bigoted American Horror Story; or AMC’s The Walking Dead, which is the most violent program on television.
But even apart from questions about what constitutes quality content, Mr. Powell stated that one of the entertainment industry’s finest achievements is the fact that “it’s great for our customers. There are more choices…[our goal is to] be doing a better-than-ever job of serving consumers.”
If Mr. Powell really wants the cable’s corporate conglomerates to “serve consumers” and offer Americans “more choices,” the PTC has a suggestion to offer: he should press the members of the NCTA to implement a la carte Cable Choice.
Americans have seen their cable bills skyrocket in the last few years. During the recent economic downturn, when every other sector of business saw profits plummet, pay TV rates actually went UP! Many Americans are now paying over $100 a month for cable or satellite television. That’s over $1000 a year just to watch TV. And some predict that the cost may DOUBLE in the next seven years!
By offering each channel on an a la carte basis, free of a “bundle,” every consumer could pick and pay for only those channels they actually want to watch, rather than being forced to pay for hundreds of channels they never watch, don’t want, and may even find offensive.
How can the cable industry claim to “serve consumers” and offer Americans “more choices” when it denies them the most basic choice of all: the choice not to pay for something they don’t want and never use?