NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Thursday, March 22nd, 2018

NPI asks Bob Ferguson to consider filing suit to block bad AT&T/Time Warner merger

Editor’s Note: The following is the text of a letter sent to Attorney General Bob Ferguson asking his office to take a stand for media diversity and Internet freedom by filing suit to block the merger of AT&T and Time Warner.

Dear Attorney General Ferguson:

The Northwest Progressive Institute is very supportive of your endeavor to preserve a free and open Internet for the people of Washington.

Thank you for joining with other Democratic Attorneys General to battle Trump and Ajit Pai’s push to repeal the FCC’s 2015 Open Internet order. The Northwest Progressive Institute stands with you in the fight for net neutrality.

We are writing to you about a related matter: the proposed acquisition of Time Warner by AT&T. As we are sure you are aware, the Department of Justice is suing to block this merger, but seemingly only because Donald Trump despises CNN and the Department of Justice is trying to get on Trump’s good side.

We cannot count on the other Washington.

At NPI, we have been doing our part over the years to raise awareness about the problems caused by unchecked media consolidation. When big media conglomerates get even bigger, they become content clearinghouses that slant the programming to meet their objectives, instead of providing broad perspectives for people to consider. Diversity falls by the wayside, and constituencies within our country go unrepresented in the press. This is dangerous, and the people of Washington need you to take a stand to ensure the problem doesn’t get worse.

Unchecked consolidation has already led to fewer jobs in journalism, smaller newsrooms, and reduced coverage of civic matters. Nonprofits like NPI and startups like GeekWire have tried to mitigate this destructive trend by providing online publications that offer reporting and analysis to the public.

We depend on a free and open Internet to reach audiences. If the Internet does not remain free, the consequences of consolidation will grow even more severe.

It is impossible to assess the AT&T/Time Warner merger without taking into consideration the impact that the FCC’s proposed net neutrality rollback would have. AT&T is the third-largest broadband provider in the United States, with 15.7 million subscribers. And they own DirecTV, by far the largest satellite television provider, with over twenty million subscribers.

If the Trump administration is successful in ramming through its net neutrality repeal, but is unsuccessful in blocking the AT&T/Time Warner merger, it would create a nightmare scenario for Americans.

There would be nothing to stop AT&T from placing streaming content it controls – properties which would include HBO, the sporting events broadcast on Turner Sports, like the NBA, the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, the Major League Baseball Playoffs, plus the entire Warner Brothers film catalogue – in a fast lane, or from slowing down delivery of content they don’t own to their subscribers.

AT&T’s CEO Randall Stephenson has claimed that they wouldn’t do such a thing because they know it would anger their subscribers. But, in effect, he’s just saying, “Trust us.” That is a leap of faith that Americans should not take.

Big media is already too big. It can’t be allowed to get any bigger.

We request that you consider filing a separate suit to block the proposed merger between AT&T and Time Warner. Doing so would send a powerful message that is consistent with your support for net neutrality. It will also send a clear signal that there are reasons to oppose this merger that have nothing to do with which media outlets Donald Trump has been using as a punching bag on Twitter.

Thank you.

Rick Hegdahl
Northwest Progressive Institute
Andrew Villeneuve
Founder and Executive Director
Northwest Progressive Institute

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