Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Beware a Communications Monopoly

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Beware a Communications Monopoly

Article excerpt

The proposed merger between Tele-Communications Inc. and Bell Atlantic should send a powerful warning about the emerging "information highway": Unless we're careful, there will be no fork in the road.

The merger would create the sixth-largest corporation in the United States. When antitrust laws were still enforced, this alone would have caused alarm. But the new company will reach into two out of five homes in America with the single most important wire of the future, carrying telephone, computer, television and other interactive services.

The new company would not be just another good old-fashioned mega-corporation. Consider: If you don't like GM's cars, buy a Ford or a Toyota. Don't like IBM computers? Buy Apple or DEC or Dell. But in the communities that TCI-Bell will serve, no real alternative will exist for the single wire carrying information into the home.

TCI-Bell will spend a lot of time and money telling us otherwise. They will say we have a broad range of choices that is getting broader daily: cellular phones, long-distance competition, VCRs, broadcast television . . . ad nauseam. They will be aided by a wrong-headed Clinton administration that seems to equate information infrastructure with information monopoly, in a 1990s version of "what's good for GM is good for the country."

But Vice President Al Gore ought to think back two years to the many complaints about cable he received as Sen. Gore. His Tennessee constituents were outraged by their local cable monopolies and demanded action. Enough Americans agreed that even a gridlocked Congress re-regulated cable in 1992.

TCI is the most ruthless of the cable monopolies. Now that its president, John Malone, has joined the ranks of the information elite, he is being hailed as a visionary by America's business pages. But the John Malone who told McNeil-Lehrer viewers that TCI would not seek monopoly control of the information industries had different views not long ago: In 1984, Malone compared the cable industry to "a game of Monopoly" and said that TCI's primary goal was to leverage cash flow and assets to buy more property. …

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