Dynamic Competition Proves There Is No Captive Audience: 10 Years, 10G, and YouTube TV
In Susan Crawford’s 2013 book “Captive Audience: The Telecom Industry and Monopoly Power in the New Gilded Age,” the Harvard Law School professor argued that the U.S. telecommunications industry had become dominated by a few powerful companies, leading to limited competition and negative consequences for consumers, especially for broadband internet.
Crawford’s ire was focused particularly on Comcast, AT&T, and Verizon, as she made the case that these three firms were essentially monopolies that had divided territories and set up roadblocks through mergers, vertical integration, and influence over regulators and franchisors to prevent competition and innovation. In particular, she noted the power Comcast commanded in securing access to live sports, allowing them to effectively prevent cord-cutting and limit competition from other cable companies.
According to Crawford, the consequences of this monopoly power were high prices for service, poor customer service, and limited access to high-speed internet in certain areas, particularly in rural and low-income communities. In effect, she saw no incentives for broadband companies to invest in high-speed and reliable internet. In response, she proposed increased competition and regulation, including the development of fiber-based municipal broadband to foster greater consumer choice, lower prices, and improved access to reliable internet service.
A decade later, the broadband market is far more dynamically competitive than critics like Crawford believed was possible. YouTube TV’s rights to NFL Sunday Ticket (as well as the massive amount of programming available online) suggests that Comcast did not have the control over important programming like live sports that would have enabled them to prevent cord-cutting or to limit competition. And the rise of 10G broadband also suggests that there is much more competition in the broadband market than Crawford believed was possible, as her “future proof” goal of symmetrical 1Gb Internet will soon be slower than what the market actually provides.