Friday, June 06, 2003

Antitrust News: Comcast's refusal to air rivals ads criticized

This from USA Today:

A U.S. congressman has asked the Justice Department to examine whether cable giant Comcast's refusal to air some DSL advertisements by rival Qwest Communications is anti-competitive.

Rep. Rick Boucher, D-Va., spurred by Qwest's complaints, wrote in a May 19 letter to the agency's antitrust unit that ''Comcast's discriminatory advertising practices should be closely examined and . . . disallowed.'' Boucher, a veteran on telecom policy, said in an interview that the consumer impact ''can be very real if this practice becomes more pervasive.'' He has not heard from Justice, which did not comment.

For months, Qwest has complained to Comcast, the No. 1 cable operator, that it unfairly restricts or refuses ads. They vie for broadband customers in many markets.

Comcast says it runs DSL ads that are pitched as part of a bundle of communications services. It doesn't accept DSL-only ads.

Three other big cable operators, Cox, Charter and Adelphia, say the decision to run rival ads is made case by case. Cable operators have long refused DSL ads, arguing that the First Amendment protects that right -- and that phone companies can reach customers via local TV, radio and billboards. Critics warn antitrust concerns might come into play as cable firms consolidate.
How totaly obnoxious. I've drafted the follwing letter to Rep. Boucher:

Dear Rep. Boucher:

I read with interest USA Today’s coverage of your letter to the Department of Justice calling for an antitrust investigation of Comcast Corporation for refusing to air DSL advertisements by rival Qwest Communications.

There is a certain degree of irony in your call for antitrust investigation of Comcast. I doubt you feel obligated to use your campaign apparatus to communicate the views of your political opponents, yet you seem to have no compunction in demanding Comcast use its assets to communicate the message of its business rivals. It would seem you believe that you have the right to un-coerced control of the organization you have built, but not Comcast.

Our organization has closely monitored the antitrust enforcement efforts of the Department of Justice and Federal Trade Commission for over five years. We have observed first hand antitrust law’s use in attacking great firms, such as Microsoft, for attempting to improve its products, and simple individuals, like Ms. Marcia Brauchler, a Colorado woman earning less than $30,000 a year, but who was accused of being a monopolist by FTC antitrust enforcers because she allegedly violated its shifting mandates as she helped physicians negotiate their contracts with health plans. As long as antitrust law denies the rights of a businessman to complete control of his work and property, it is a law open to wholesale abuse.

Your position on the Comcast case ought to have been that Comcast has every right to control its communication network, and is under no obligation to service the parasitical needs of its business rivals. Yet by your letter, you have turned a simple business question into a political question. I challenge you to reconcile your position with the principle of individual rights. Every individual has a right to pursue his own self-interest in the market. To claim otherwise is to say that we are a nation of surfs obligated to serve the whims of our neighbors. I would hope your vision of America is more profound than that.

Respectfully Submitted,

Nicholas Provenzo
What are the odds of Boucher reconciling his position with the principle of individual rights? Probably a lot better if he received a host of letters like mine.

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