The need for adequate and affordable broadband in Maryland has risen exponentially in recent years. If we’re being honest with ourselves, wired broadband access is no longer a 21st Century luxury, it’s a necessity, like water and electricity.
So what, or whom rather, is preventing so many residents across the state from getting access to wired broadband? Well, the simple answer is monopolies.
Today, there are several monopolies that exist in the United States with almost complete control over various markets, specifically in the emerging technologies. Companies like AT&T and Microsoft are prime examples.
AT&T has effectively controlled landline phone service in the United States from the time the American Telephone Company was first formed in 1885. Microsoft has operated as a monopoly with computer operating systems since the mid-1980’s. U.S. District Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson summed up the detrimental impact of monopolies in a statement regarding a court case between the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and Microsoft:
“Microsoft’s past success in hurting such companies and stifling innovation deters investment in technologies and businesses that exhibit the potential to threaten Microsoft…the ultimate result is that some innovations that would truly benefit consumers never occur for the sole reason that they do not coincide with Microsoft’s self-interest.”
The overarching effect of monopolies in the marketplace is that consumers are left with no options and overpriced goods while the monopolies get rich.
In Maryland, there is Comcast.
Comcast NBCUniversal, more commonly know as Comcast, has operated as a monopoly within the state due in large part to franchise agreements. Cable and broadband service providers, such as Comcast, negotiate what’s called a franchise agreement with local governments, a power given to local governments by the Cable Communications Act of 1984. This is often the case because local governments control much-needed infrastructure such as utility poles and local right-of-ways.
In exchange for negotiating a franchise agreement, the service provider pays the local government a franchise fee and promises other conditions within the agreement. In return the cable and broadband provider receives monopolist protections and reduced competition in their service area.
The Wall Street Journal published an article in 2014 that depicted the consolidation of over 40 regional cable companies into just four players: Charter, Time Warner Cable, Cox, and Comcast. These companies operate as monopolies within their region of influence.
Comcast has built-out a network through most of the state and as such can effectively strong arm any local government or municipality when it comes to negotiating these franchise agreements. Often times, local governments want to make available wired broadband to all of their residents. All Comcast has to do is threaten to abandon their entire network and leave the county and they get what they want. The monopoly service provider more often than not dictates the franchise agreement terms.
This is the reason why so many residents throughout the state do not have access to affordable wired broadband, because Comcast doesn’t want to provide it, cheaply that is.
I have heard from many residents across the state who have been given estimates ranging from $10,000 to $25,000 to have Comcast connect their home to wired broadband. As one resident put it “I find it curious that when I lived in the kingdom of Bahrain in the Persian Gulf I had better high-speed internet options than I do living within 45 miles of the capital of arguably the world’s most advanced and capable country.”
Comcast’s foothold on Maryland does not stop with its extensive coverage of the state but it even extends into the top tiers of state and local government.
According to a scathing article from the Washington Post entitled “Daddy Comcast”, Comcast, ingeniously so, has worked with key government officials within the state and has gone so far as to put some of these officials and their relatives on their payroll. Effectively garnering favor among Maryland’s elite and ensuring their monopolies place in the state.
The examples are endless. Former Maryland First Lady, Kendel Ehrlich has worked for Comcast in several positions. First, as a lawyer and then as a show producer and host of a talk-show.
Former Maryland Senator Thomas Bromwell pushed through legislation that positively impacted cable companies, shortly after which his two sons were hired by Comcast. Sen. Bromwell was later sentenced to 7 years in prison on a corruption charge in an unrelated matter.
Comcast sought to expand its network by providing cable to the dorms at the University of Maryland College Park and also wanted naming rights for the basketball arena. It hired a public relations firm run by David H. Nevins, who at the time was a member of the university system board. Comcast was able to close the $20 million dollar deal and soon after Mr. Nevins was hired by Comcast as President of its regional sports network.
Unfortunately, the list goes on and on from the daughter of Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. to Wayne K. Curry, former Prince George’s County Executive.
The resulting message is clear: Comcast controls Maryland.