AT&T Death Star
AT&T Death Star

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

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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