CDD Statement on AT&T/Time Warner Deal

By: Jeff Chester | Oct 22 2016
"Big Data" driven merger raises threats to consumers, subscribers and competitors as mega-giant will gather our data from PCs, mobile devices and TVs

This proposed deal raises major challenges for consumers, subscribers and competitors.  It reflects the “Big Data” and digitally data-driven imperatives that are reshaping the U.S. media system.  Giant broadband ISP networks, such as AT&Ts, and content providers as Time Warner, want to join together to both deliver programming and continually gather a host of information about each and every consumer.   A new stranglehold is being placed on our communications landscape, as already dominant cable and telephone monopolies devour former partners or competitors (Verizon/AOL/and now Yahoo!, for example).  This is all about tracking and targeting us regardless of whether we use a mobile device, PC or TV.  Through the growing capability of mobile phones to follow and geo-target us everywhere we go—the supermarket, while in a car, or even on the street, these new broadband ISP/mobile/TV giants are extending their powerful digital tentacles further into our lives.  While some programmers and large advertisers will benefit, the deal raises a host of consumer concerns, including about privacy.

It’s no surprise that AT&T is bitterly opposed to the privacy safeguards up for a vote this coming Thursday at the FCC.   They don’t want any potential new rules that empower consumers to control what they hope will be a massive influx of data they plan to monetize.  Today’s announcement underscores why the FCC should pass Chairman Wheeler’s plan.  Antitrust and consumer protection regulators must use a 21st Century framework that ensures that the public has a fair, diverse and equitable digital media system.

Those companies that control our data--as well as the devices and applications we rely on (especially mobile)--will be formidable gatekeepers.  They will be able to influence the content and communications we both receive and send.  It's not to far out to see the next deal be Google/Comcast or AT&T/Time Warner/Facebook.  AT&T's recent buying spree, including DirecTV, gives it a formidable cross-screen presence.  As one of the handful of dominant broadband Internet Service Providers, it provides critical network connections to millions of Americans, as well as multichannel video service.  It is investing to expand this empire, including video streaming and the Internet of Things.   Now it will have both Big Data and Bug Bunny, as well as HBO, CNN and a myrid of other properties.  All to lure us to sit back, subscribe, view, interact with the ads on all our devices, engage with branded experiences and--yes--for this even bigger digital giant to gather and sell off our data on behalf of big brands and vested interests.  

statement of Jeff Chester, executive director

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