Thursday, December 6, 2012

Through The Looking Glass  
      The rabbit ears long ago became refuse. The roof antenna rusted out and ended up in the dump. Ditto for your cordless phone that looked like a WWII walkie-talkie. It’s all cable and wireless now.
      So, all-powerful American consumer, take your pick of plans. Plan A  gives you cable, phone and internet by way of the single company in your town. If you want a certain channel, say the frog racing channel, you also have to buy the Latvian cooking channel, and a lot of other channels you don’t want. That's because they’re bundled for your operator's economic enjoyment. Your phone is only good for the U.S; a call to Toronto will cost a bundle. And finally your internet clip-clops instead of galloping. The freight: $150 a month.
    Plan B is a little different.  You get a choice of dozens of cable operators to sign with. The number of channels they carry is brain-boggling--everything from Mongolian yak husbandry to
Panamanian porn. Your phone works for 70 countries. Internet speed is ten times that offered in Plan A. The charge: $38 a month. And you can change carriers anytime.
    But you don't really have a choice. Plan A is what we get in the free-market United States.  Plan B is for France and the other socialistic countries of Europe. Of course, you might be saying at this point that it looks like the Europeans have the real free market while we have local monopolies.
    But, as the cable industry and their friendly regulators in the government will tell you, it only appears so. Competition doesn’t have to be local or for the same customers.  As long as there are at least two cable companies in the country, it’s assumed that their mere existence means they compete and therefore that the cable market is a free one.  And even if we get down to one cable company for the whole country, charging a thousand bucks a week for b&w reception, a rotary dial phone and a 56K modem, that will still be a triumph of the American free market system since foreign cable companies will be deemed competitors.  As they say in the splendidly lucrative cable business, it’s all in the way you look at things.