The cable industry is already a hot mess in the US. Nearly 80 percent of the country has only one option for high-speed broadband, because a handful of big cable companies has split the nation into a series of regional monopolies.
That’s bad (and the reason why cable companies can treat their customers like actual dog crap!) but at least there’s some competition between companies on a national level. But over the last year, cable companies have been merging at breakneck speeds, and a new report suggests that two giant players might become one.
A report in the NYPost suggests that Charter — the second-biggest cable company, which also owns the Spectrum and TWC brands — is looking at buying Cox, the third-largest cable TV provider. A merger of the two brands would kill direct competition in some areas and consolidate the national broadband industry even further.
That would be objectively terrible for an industry that’s already failing to compete in any meaningful way. With less national competition, cable companies will have even less incentive to push ahead with expensive new infrastructure projects, delaying the rollout of high-speed fiber internet even further.
Even if Charter’s acquisition of Cox doesn’t go ahead, the NYPost suggests that the vultures are circling. Comcast, Verizon and Altice are all listed as other potential buyers, so we might see a protracted bidding war for Cox.
Normally, mergers between huge companies in highly concentrated, non-competitive markets are subject to serious oversight from government regulators. But the FCC, which has operated as the principle regulator of the telecoms industry for the last eight years, is now run by former Verizon lawyer Ajit Pai. At nearly every opportunity he’s voiced his opinion that the FCC shouldn’t be a competiton regulator or consumer advocate; instead, he’s diminishing its role to spectrum auctions and stripping net neutrality protections.
At this point, competition isn’t likely to come from inside the stagnating cable industry. Instead, we can hope that new innovations open up the market for home broadband to new players. 5G technology could remove the need for a cable to run all the way to every house, which would dramatically lower the set-up cost for new internet providers. Facebook, Google and SpaceX have all voiced some kind of interest in using planes, balloons and satellites to deliver internet, and the EU is now investigating a satellite-based 5G system.
In other words: give up on cable, burn it to the ground, and launch satellites into orbit. It’s just easier than dealing with Comcast’s customer support.