The "Telecommunication Act" Rip-Off


Remember a few years ago when Congress and most consumer organizations finally became outraged at the continuing and inextricable cost increases for cable TV services? The constant threats and realities of the huge growth in these payments caused even the most conservative commentators to rail against the monopolies that control these services. These unreasonable costs, combined with the indifference these monopolies constantly showed in their "customer service", convinced nearly everyone that some control was now necessary.

Last year's Telecommunications Act was touted as a "free-market" solution to lowering and controlling these costs. The competition that this bill supposedly was going to encouraged was through allowing cable companies and regional phone companies to compete in one another's core business. This was meant not only rein in cable's obscene costs but to contribute to the new technologies that both industries claimed were eminently available. It was hoped, as well, that cable companies might rediscover the concept of "customer service" once their stranglehold on the American consumer was eased.

Well, as usual, guess again. Since the law's passage, basic cable rates have leapt 7.8%, costing the nation's consumers a total of $117 million dollars or about $1.80 per month per household. The costs for the so-called "premium channels" has risen even faster while some cable operators have manipulated their offerings so that basic service includes few of the popular stations, forcing the consumer to pay the huge prices demanded for the better channels. To add insult to injury, the largest cable companies have announced a new round of increases for 1997.

The affront from this immense growth in rates would have been unpleasant enough without the latest news that both the cable companies and regional telephone companies knew all along that the technology to accomplish this competition wasn't available and probably wouldn't be for six to ten years. The cable firms claimed that their R&D divisions had just "discovered" that their coaxial cables were incapable of carrying the electricity to ring a phone's bell while the Baby Bells "learned' that their lines could not support the massive amount of data that video signals required.

Why the rush to get this act passed, then? Is it rhetoritical to ask if money and influence might be the root cause of this plundering of the consumer's wallet? Yes, it would most certainly be inane to ask that sort of question since there hasn't been any other reason for the vast majority of the absurd laws passed the last two decades.

Another, and far less publicized, portion of the Telecommunication Act removed all forms of price controls that the federal and state governments had passed in the previous years. The cable companies were suddenly allowed to raise their rates at any time without even the possibility of the intervention of government agencies or consumer groups. And raise their rates they did.

How much did it cost these corporations to own enough of "your" representatives to get this little swindle enacted? While political contributions from the various Baby Bells was very difficult to uncover, the three biggest cable companies, TCI, Time Warner and Continental Cablevision contributed $1.7 million to both parties while cable industry PACs added $1.2 million more.

Once again, considering a population of 240 million Americans, that comes to just about one cent per American citizen. Boy, your rights and protections are sold cheaply by your Congressman, aren't they? Wouldn't it seem just a tad less insulting if Congress sold you out for more than just a penny a person? Especially when their masters are already stealing that $1.80 per household from all of us? Didn't think so!

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