MOUNT VERNON, NY — October 2, 2019 — Tech companies have too much power — too much power over our economy, our society, and our democracy. Well known anti -trust cases like the breakup of AT&T in the 1980’s, and the breakup of Microsoft in 2000’s, were well founded. Why? Those companies grew by acquiring their competitors, using private information for profit, and in the process stifled innovation.
Fast forward 20 years. That these monopolistic practices are still in play is not a surprise. We are seeing calls today for the breakup of giants (like Facebook and Google) who were, incidentally, beneficiaries of those AT&T and Microsoft breakups. What is glaring is the inexorable pace of execution.
The evidence is at our doorsteps with the closing of a local cable news network. FIOS 1 News will shut down on Nov. 16, 2019, after the $130 billion Verizon declined to renew a 10-year contract with the Rye Brook-based Regional News Network (RNN), which produces FIOS1 content.
According to a Lohud report, about 150 people will lose their jobs at FIOS1, which covers hyper local news in the Hudson Valley, New Jersey and on Long Island. Richard French, RNN’s president, recently called the closing “a disturbing turning point in the news industry.” He may be on to something. The decision of the $130 billion Verizon, incidentally a beneficiary of the “Ma Bell” breakup, is now snuffing out a stable provider of local cable news. Left standing is News 12 (FIOS1’s competitor in the region) the only local television news service designed to cover Westchester and the lower Hudson Valley full time. Democracy suffers when we lose competing voices. I make that point (with predictive accuracy) in this linked article published in Lohud over two years ago. https://www.lohud.com/story/opinion/contributors/2017/12/08/elimination-cross-media-ownership-ban-worse-than-loss-net-neutrality-view/930693001/
The focus at time was on companies like Verizon’s role in potentially hurting innovation in the network broadband and connectivity space – net neutrality.
We must ensure that today’s tech giants do not smother the next generation of competitors, and wield so much power that they can undermine our democracy. Crossing that threshold will put Verizon in the crosshairs of the call for a breakup.
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The writer is a resident of Mount Vernon and former director of consulting for the Gartner Group.