The Big Lock-In

from Medium

What if all of the devices in your life had a common interface, controlled by a single company, that picked what video content you could easily search and access online? What if that single company had its own economic reasons to support some “channels” and hide others?

Welcome to the world of Xfinity, Comcast’s brand name for its services. You’ve seen the advertising. Now here’s the big idea: If Comcast has its way, Xfinity will be Americans’ window on the world. Basically, our only window.

First, some background. In 1996, Congress passed a law directing the FCC to ensure a competitive retail marketplace for consumer devices used to access cable and satellite pay TV services. That law, Section 629 of the Telecommunications Act, hasn’t brought about the changes Congress wanted. Today, you can choose among hundreds of wireless handsets and innumerable laptops and tablets. But when it comes to the vital category of set-top boxes—that ugly metal thing that plugs into your TV and talks to the wire coming into your house—you have very little choice.

Five years ago, the Obama administration’s National Broadband Plan pointed out that Motorola and Cisco controlled more than 90% of the set-top box market and strongly recommended that the FCC finally implement Section 629. Efforts along these lines then died a quiet death inside the agency. At the end of 2014, Congress passed a law that wipes out the FCC’s old rules on this subject as of September 15, 2015.

So now there’s a tick-tock to this story: it’s time for the Commission to get something workable in place.

More here.

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18 Responses to The Big Lock-In

  1. Jonathan Yohanan February 20, 2015 at 2:33 pm #

    First off, just imagine having a monopoly of a TV brand. How do you think that can possibly benefit the people? Prices rise, channels that don’t have the right view are blocked, and you have no control. But fortunately the government knows and we are doing things to change this. The FCC has been trying to get the ty providers to come up with some sort of adaption that will allow us to access the company’s service anywhere we go. But unfortunately for us TV watchers the industry is in no rush to provide their customers with this service.

    Now if this doesn’t happen, there is going to be a gigantic raise in prices for TV services, Comcast one of the biggest providers has bought more and more small companies just like them. Allowing prices of Xfinity to increase. But if we do get the new options of navigation and the same services, the market is going to be super competitive and the price of TV services will drop. So all we can do now is wait and see.

  2. Kerry Shaw February 20, 2015 at 3:14 pm #

    This article was pretty interesting; I think Comcast has a great idea behind being the only “window” when it comes to a common adapter or gateway. The only problem I have with the whole situation is that Comcast seems like they don’t want to share with anyone, which causes a Monopoly. Monopolies only benefit the company and not the consumer. If Comcast succeeds, there will be no other companies to compete with them and that will give Comcast the right to pricing. This makes me more uncomfortable because I would have no control over what I can buy and how much I would be spending. No matter what I do I would have to buy Comcast. Another thing that I don’t understand is why the industry doesn’t care enough to try and fix this problem. If I was another company in the cable industry and heard what Comcast was doing, I would definitely want to get involved. Whether they get involved because they want to invest in the idea or they want to stop the idea, I think the cable industry should care a little more about what’s going on. They might be the only ones who can stop Comcast. I guess we will have to wait and see what happens in September, I personally don’t like Comcast so I hope this gets resolved. Tick-tock.

  3. Valentina Reyes February 20, 2015 at 3:14 pm #

    When capitalism and consumerism combine, things like Comcast happen. It is unbelievable to think that the FCC, which is the agency charged with the regulation of communications and is supposed to impede these kinds of things from happening has found no way to do so. As an agency working for the government, they should have more capability to regulate than they are utilizing. Basically, we are looking at Comcast as a possible monopoly of television and broadband communications. The FCC has got to catch up with the times and start putting their power into practice. It is nice to know that by September they may have a solution, but it would have been nicer to see them have a regulation in place — this is their job — to combat and deflect something like this from happening.

    On the other hand, I am not surprised at all that more people have not been up in arms about this. If Comcast is controlling pretty much everything TV-related, then people do not know what they may be missing. If most people have Comcast then how would you know what you can get from having Time Warner Cable? Comcast’s towering power over these mediums has worked for its advantage as they have been able to discretely monopolize while raising little suspicion from the people. If the FCC had done its job and people would have had the chance to see what other providers and services unrelated to Comcast were out there for them, then such a conglomerate may not have happened and competition would be fair.

    I just recently discovered about the usage of Cookies and the ways in which technology is manipulated to encourage consumerism and I have to say, I am utterly disgusted by this kind of technology and frankly not surprised by Comcast’s actions. I am glad to hear, however, that Obama has been urging the FCC to do its job. Let’s not be consumed by the allure of capitalism.

  4. Robert Morrison February 20, 2015 at 4:43 pm #

    The idea of one TV provider having control over all of the videos we have access to on the internet is a frightning notion. The internet is supposed to allow all people a creative venue so they can express themselves openly freely and publish this and share their creation with others. It should be something that enhances our right to freedom of speech. But the idea of a single internet provider having control over all we watch on the internet does the exact opposite of this.

    As the traditional idea of television is slowly killed by mobile internet based television, big box providers, especially Comcast, are taking control of this new market by force, and with little opposition. This forces us as consumers to either continue using a redundant form of viewing TV, or be forced to Comcast’s conditions and programming. This, if used for the wrong reasons, could be extremely dangerous. North Korea uses a singular government provider of TV and Internet who’s programming to keep its people in the dark about what is happening outside of the countries boarders, and I feel similar things could be used here if people with the wrong motives are given the kind of power that Comcast is near possessing. If this happens, freedom of speech will never be what it is today, and the idea of a free internet that allows individuals to provide their own content to benefit society will be dead.

  5. Walker J. Mondt February 20, 2015 at 4:50 pm #

    The world has entered into an era of technology which has continuously progressed faster and faster since its conception. As with all new frontiers, society is unsure of how to handle what it has discovered. While technology has an unlimited amount of potential applications, there are drawbacks. This article outlines one of those major issues.

    Of course many critics point to this being a problem of regulation. The belief that capitalism is bad and regulation is necessary may seem like the answer, but it’s not. The true solution to the problem lies in striking a balanced approach to regulation and allowing companies to do their own thing. Over regulation can stifle development and innovation, however, we are currently seeing the effects of under regulations – higher prices and unfair business tactics.

    At the end of this month, the Federal Communications Commission will vote on Chairman Wheeler’s proposal to increase regulation on Internet Service Provider. He plans to do this through previous legislative acts. It seems like this course of action will serve as a strong strategy, however, many opponents foresee problems of overregulation.

  6. Kuba Babinski February 20, 2015 at 7:34 pm #

    If the FCC, with their Downloadable Security Technology Advisory Committee, fails to stop the monopolization of a company such as Comcast, then we, as consumers, might as well kiss whatever freedom the media market has left goodbye. There already exists an oligopoly in the realm of service providers, and although we may not have too many options to choose from, we still, nonetheless, have some sort of a competition that allows freedom. That allows certain individuals to utilize their specific talents and broadcast them to the larger portion of the population. This is how we learn, how we grow, and ultimately how we benefit. However, allowing a single company, such as Comcast in this case, to simply come in and run things how they please limits us. It’s a terrifying idea and one that must be stopped. The public will have less of an ability to learn what truly exists beyond what they are presented. Society will essentially reach a stalemate, as the generation of new ideas is halted. Not only will it impact us socially, but the economic results will be similarly affected. Competitive markets have a knack for driving out producers that simply are not efficient. Without having any competitors, we are forced to buy a service that may or may not be good for us economically, in which results can be terrible.

  7. Christopher Fowlkes February 20, 2015 at 8:14 pm #

    There was once a time where companies had certain purposes and stuck to them. Now companies are involved in multiple places to stay relevant. Comcast is no different as it is trying to acquire a monopoly. I am surprised that representatives of the company openly state that they’re trying to own and control everything. The government on the other side of things seems to have made a mistake by getting rid of the old FCC rule without having a backup. It’s like they are working with Comcast.

    Having only 1 choice of TV provider won’t amuse many people, but restricting what consumers can see by having software integrated in all devices seems like an illegal activity. I hope other companies will deny Comcast of putting its software into products. Comcast would be able to drastically increase prices if they manage to pull off their scheme, and they are pricey as it is.

  8. L.E. Baron KJP February 20, 2015 at 8:18 pm #

    Big companies want to take over and monopolize the world, government is trying to stop it…blah blah blah. Does it sound new? I have only heard this a few dozen times. I find it humorous that this is something that frequently occurs in the telecommunication industry. With the introduction of streaming services such as Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime chipping away at the cable providers, one would have thought they would learn something and provide better service to retain customers. History must repeat itself, as companies such as Comcast and Time Warner continue to scheme to control their industries. If it was not for government regulation, who know how backed up our technology would be?
    Net neutrality is something that every knowledgeable individual should strive for, because after all, it increases competition. With more competition comes more innovation and better products/services. This is why we should be hoping that the government finds a way to stop Xfinity from becoming so big and controlling what we can see. The problem I see arising however, is the pay to play specific content model that the article is pushing for. I find it hard for consumers who are used to paying a monthly fee and unlocking a plethora of content to want to switch to paying for specific shows/channels. After all, that brings the whole idea of how much each channel/show/episode is worth and whether the prices posted by the companies are inflated or not. Furthermore, would prices adjust according to demand? These are all questions that would need answering, and your average Joe would rather leave it to the companies, for the good or bad. A whole price, they understand. Microtransactions…not so much. I would like to see a functioning model of such service before the industry moves to that point. But who knows, it might be the next big thing.

  9. Guillermo Garcia February 20, 2015 at 9:38 pm #

    Over the semester and this course the more i learn about things like net neutrality and this above instance, I am starting to like comcast less and less, the customer service was always horrible, but this company seems to just be bad in general. Being the “only window to the world”? This is horrible i know my self personally would not want this. Comcast seems to just be a big selfish, greedy monster, that is ready to limit and kill everythngs growth in order to gain a check. Like if it wasn’t billion dollar company already in the first place. But i dislike the idea of them being a company controlling the interface to my device. They started as a pay-tv company and should stay this way. instead of trying to ruin and control every other aspect of virtual or online entertainment for lack of a better term, how about they offer better deals or value to TV and Phone service. People go away from them because it is not worth it at incredible over charged price they pay and top of that everytime you encounter an issue (which is pretty often) the customer service is horrible. If they find a way to control interfaces today. Tomorrow a more intelligent and bright minded individual will come along and find a way for people to use and view things with out comcast, which is basically what we did to get to this point.

  10. Meghan Monte February 22, 2015 at 8:37 pm #

    This article’s content alarms me very much. The topic is a common interface for all electronic devices controlled by a single company, namely Xfinity/Comcast, being a possibility by September 2015. There have been several laws passed concerning competitive markets in the industry for devices used to access TV and Internet, and as of September 2015, these laws will no longer exist. This gives Xfinity the opportunity to implement its grandeur plan – to virtually control all of the devices used to access TV and internet videos via a single platform used to monitor all consumer activity. Previously, AT&T’s attempts at controlling the market have been blocked by the FCC and the Carterfone decision, but Xfinity has found a way to potentially make it work. Not only has Xfinity bought out many of its competitors, but it has been offering its platform to other cable providers for free to use with their cable TV set-top boxes. Thus, Xfinity can control menus, downloading, recording, streaming, and advertising. Eventually, Xfinity can have a monopoly over the industry if another piece of restrictive legislature isn’t implemented.
    The article’s content is particularly alarming as the idea of decreased consumer privacy has been brought into the light more often. This article illuminates the problems that exist in the technology market, some being that companies are buying out their competitors to create a monopoly. The biggest problem I see with companies buying out their competitors is that most people, such as myself, have no idea that these acquisitions are occurring. Further, consumers usually have no idea how much information is being gathered and/or how the information is being gathered. If monopolies are not to exist in the US, then how are these quieted acquisition-based monopolies occurring? And how is this not a violation of our privacy rights? I feel that it is a massive violation of privacy rights, and I personally feel betrayed by companies who acquire competitors without alerting consumers. If a consumer feels negatively toward a particular company and chooses to use another company or support another company, he or she may be supporting the company he or she was trying to avoid, if such an acquisition has occurred. I feel that it is a way to keep the consumers in the dark until a monopoly has occurred and there is no turning back, as Xfinity is trying to do.
    Further, the fact that Xfinity has been giving its interface to other companies to use for free with their set-top boxes is also extremely appalling. It is not enough for Comcast to control most of its competitors, but it also must expand its eyes on the industry and consumers by implementing its programs into set-top boxes which it had not previously controlled. This not only allows Xfinity to promote its own services and products, but it allows Xfinity to find out what consumers want to either expel it from consumers’ minds or buy out that company as well. Xfinity will have complete control over what we see on our smartphones, tablets, TVs, computers, etc. if we let it, and we will have to submit to their control. Already, Comcast knows more than any of us probably know or what them to know, and it will only increase unless restrictive legislature is put into place and quickly. Once Comcast has control of the industry it will likely be near impossible to break up the monopoly, so it is increasingly imperative to resolve the issue as soon as possible.

  11. BetaneliC February 24, 2015 at 11:24 am #

    Several issues brought to light in this article are cause for concern. Comcast appears unapologetic about their interest in “running things”, according to their Executive Vice President David Cohen. Comcast appears interested in only acquiring companies not partnering with them to design a service that listens to customers and suits their viewing needs.

    As a consumer, having multiple “windows” into streaming video with options like Roku, Chromecast, hulu, Netflix, Amazon Prime and others, we gain access to more variety. Each offering has slightly different programming due to their individual relationships in the entertainment industry. Consumers, particularly younger consumers, are interested in playing the field, becoming subscribers of multiple platforms to gain access to the largest variety of programming, not being restricted by a giant that would control the options.

    In addition, removing competition from the market has serious consequences for consumers beyond programming choices. Allowing Comcast to dominate will lead to high prices, poor service and a less than quality product as Comcast would have no one to compete with, making product and service improvements an unnecessary expense. Comcast is not, and would not be in the business of serving the customer.

    While this article tackles the legal and government decisions facing this industry, it also raises important ethical and fairness issues. If the government does not address the value and need for options, customers lose the right to choose. So many companies today focus on customer as king. If Comcast is able to “run things” they do not need to put the customer first since the customer will not have the option to take their business elsewhere. Being a giant is not always a bad thing, so long as the company is doing right by your customer while still maintaining a successful business. Comcast seems to be going another route.

  12. Walter.D February 24, 2015 at 5:03 pm #

    Malcon X once said that “ the media’s the most powerful entity on earth. They have the power to make the innocent guilty and to make the guilty innocent, and that’s power. Because they control the minds of the masses” and he was wright. The media are the most powerful entity on earth because they control what the mass is thinking and whoever controls them, control the mass and who control the mass control the government policy.

    I do not know if this is it ultimate goals, but Comcast is on the right tack if it is because as mention in the article, “if Comcast has its way, Xfinity will be Americans’ window on the world”. As a result, Comcast will be able to controls them because they will not be able to easily access other information source. Thus, the information relay will now depends of Comcast’s agenda.

    However, what is even more disturbing for me than this article is that there is no other mass media broadcasting this information. Maybe because the Oscar ceremony, celebrities break up, and sport results are more important.
    http://money.cnn.com/2015/02/24/luxury/griffin-billionaire-divorce/index.html
    http://www.cnn.com/2015/02/23/entertainment/feat-oscars-social-media-buzz/index.html
    http://www.cnn.com/2015/02/24/football/qatar-2022-world-cup-winter/index.html

  13. Brendan Lloyd February 24, 2015 at 8:06 pm #

    From this article it seems that a major problem can arise if Comcast gains all the power enabling them to cause a monopoly. It will not be good for anyone especially the customers if Comcast takes complete control of the television services. If no one is able to compete with Comcast yes they will benefit greatly but that is not what’s most important. The consumers will be most affected as they will be the ones subjected to the high increases and prices and most likely drop in quality. Since this will be the only option on the market customers will be forced to purchase Comcast if they hope to have tv service within their household. This places all the power in the hands of the producer and puts the consumer in a very bad position as they will no longer be in control of the situation. By now I am surprised that no one has tried to step foot in front of this and put an end before it started gaining momentum and being put in affect.
    By allowing Comcast to take complete control in a way it is taking away our freedom as we will be forced to watch and use Comcast as a provider rather than have many options. They will control what people see and what they want them to see which can cause for a very dangerous problem. If those who are in charge of Comcast do not have the right intentions while controlling this, a situation like this can quickly get out of hand infringing on many freedoms that we are entitled to here in the United States. The government must get involved with this and make sure this is not allowed because it is not fair to the consumer. The customer will no longer be priority as it will just be about making as much money as possible and ripping everyone off with astronomical prices for television.

  14. Marlon Gonzalez-Perez February 26, 2015 at 3:31 pm #

    Without any competition to offer variety and leverage, where will the consumer stand? The monopolization of the cable industry by Xfinity creates a lack of competition in which the consumer is left without any option. This presents a fundamental issue when it pertains to contract negotiation as well as broadband speeds. There must be some sort of leverage for the consumer in order for the service to be fair. Further elaborating on this, it means that the company, Xfinity, is able to charge as much as it pleases with no consequence.

    The producer is able to charge irrational prices, warrant absurd contracts, and provide services which lack because there would be no other choice. It is imperative to provide options in an effort to regulate a market which has been deregulated after years of the U.S government providing a stable, regulated market. The remedy would be to create a market in which the consumer is able to pick & choose between providers.

  15. Arman Sandhu March 13, 2015 at 3:12 pm #

    The FCC ruling is now confirmed, there is net neutrality. What this means is that big corporations like Xfinity as mentioned by the author cannot have a monopoly on the views of America. There has been strict policies implemented saying that companies cannot block any thing. What this means is that providers are prohibited from stopping viewers from seeing certain material. This is probably the biggest part of the argument.

    As Medium indicated there is no way America would sit by and let their freedom of speech be manipulated. With large corporations controlling the filters of America, it would generate a manipulative tendency in these large providers. However, just as equally important as freedom of speech is “no throttling”. This means that certain channels or specific shows cannot be highlighted above others. This prevents the trap of corporations vying for an opportunity to be seen by the viewers.

    The competitive edge in these businesses would be arbitrarily dictated by the providers. Lastly there can be “no paid prioritization”. This would prevent viewers from paying for a greater usage above others and again stop future entrepreneurs from destroying other great shows. The prioritization aspect also highlights a symbol of equality. Certainly the fans want the best service and shows however, we should never neglect the human aspect.

    This all leads to a great call made by congress. Thanks to internet neutrality people can make shows, and Americans can be safe from oppressive corporations. The article mentions that there was great anxiety in the decision however, it has been decided and luckily in the favor of the people. Everyone can be satisfied with this development, and make sure America stays free. Monopolies are illegal for a reason, and we intend to keep it that way.

  16. Christopher Auer March 26, 2015 at 2:31 am #

    This is actually a really scary idea. I could not imagine if Comcast was my only option to go to for TV provider. That would be a monopoly waiting to happen. The worst part, the price and quality of the service. If they are the only ones, they can jack up the prices and make you pay even more for better quality. Before you know it, you are paying 2 to 3 times the amount you are today for the same quality of service. I can only hope that this does not happen to us. We would be stripped of our freedom that we take advantage of every single day. We are lucky to have the service we do today for the price it is at. We can only hope that this master plan of Comcast does not go through. Someone is going to have to step up to compete.

  17. Mike D April 10, 2015 at 3:16 pm #

    Like most comments, the idea of this article is extremely alarming. I for one am not a fan of Comcast. Their customer service is notoriously terrible. The company has been reported as being vindictive and spiteful. With their new approach to grab the entire market and lock all consumers into their own programs is scary. I am an avid TV watcher and have lived in areas where you have limited choices for cable providers. It is not a fun situation to be in, especially when those providers are not the best in the market.
    The government needs to step in a put a stop to this. If they could break up AT&T, they should be able to stop Comcast. Having a monopoly in this market with the ability to control our information is something that can prevent us from the freedoms that we are promised in the constitution. The people have the right to all information, not just what some greedy corporation deems acceptable.

  18. Stephanie Nwaiwu April 1, 2016 at 7:41 pm #

    We often hear of companies, offering large plans to keep an entire family and there services within the company. This idea that one company can control that one entity for an entire nation is really not that new. But the fact that it is a bigger deal right now is because of the certain net neutrality debateable. Specifically when it comes to TV viewing, we’ve seen a very wide and different range in the applications that have come about. With Netflix and Amazon Prime coming out with television shows of their own, the TV sphere has moved from the standard television set to the small screen. Computers. The article talks about how Comcast, with plans to offer an online version of their television broadcasting service, so they can control how you watch television on and off the screen. By constraining their services only to Comcast offered, they can limit the amount of traffic to Netflix, Vudu of YouTube by not allowing simultaneous checking. This type of bottlenecking of American people is really a step backwards. We have worked so hard to give ourselves so many different options for our viewing pleasure, but trying to limit ourselves, if Comcast gets there way is taking our huge wild world wide web and constraining it. Which is wrong.

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