Shame on Capitol Hill: The political cable fix


By Kenric Ward |

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Grandstanding over the proposed Comcast-Time Warner cable merger makes good political theater for the masses. After all, who among us hasn’t had a dispute or two with their cable company?

COMCAST ON TAPE: Ryan Block recorded an excruciating exchange he had with a Comcast representative.

Yet the script for Wednesday’s hearing at the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation falls flat.

Democrats, led by former comedian and current Sen. Al Franken, will bemoan yet another round of “consolidation” in the multibillion-dollar cable industry.

The wailing has some appeal. The public is painfully aware of the dangers of a “too big to fail” model, whether it be in telecommunications or banking.

But local, state and federal lawmakers have themselves to blame. They carved out exclusive territories for cable companies and created government-sanctioned monopolies from coast to coast.

Fact is, Comcast and Time Warner seldom share service areas. They rarely compete against each other. All the blather about “consolidation” is only static.

The underlying problem — the reason cable customers are such an abused lot — is a long-running lack of competition in the business. Politicians and the cable companies set it up that way decades ago.

For Franken & Co. to be bloviating now is both feeble and disingenuous.

Democrats aren’t the only bad actors in this farce.

Covering for the cable tie-up, the conservative Washington Times grandly opines: “Corporate mergers are meant to be exercises in free-market efficiency.”

Sounds positively Hayek-esque, but the cable business is not “free.” Nor is there much of a “market.” Politicians who pocket franchise fees from cable operators and designate exclusive territories make sure competition is held at bay.

Anyone tempted to take in the preening and plucking at Wednesday’s Senate hearing should take a few minutes to listen to Ryan Block, a former cable customer.

While attempting to terminate his Comcast service, Block recorded the revealing exchange he had with a company representative. It is surreal, and painful to hear.

Comcast executives say they are embarrassed. So say we all.

Kenric Ward is a national correspondent for and chief of its Virginia Bureau. Contact him at or at (571) 319-9824. @Kenricward