Corporate Perceptions of Telecom Monopolists

In what could be the most visibly grotesque appraisal of monopolistic trends of capitalism, Jeffrey Nelson for Verizon Wireless says, the telecom industry of America is highly competitive. Washington Post quotes him as saying that consumers can choose among numerous handset models and four major providers of cellular services: Verizon, AT&T, Sprint Nextel and T-Mobile. “If you don’t like what one company enables,” he said, “find somebody else.”

Perhaps what’s lost on the corporate communicators is the fact that “four major providers” are signs of monopoly, and not of competition. American capitalism is on its path to perfection in the sense of its graduations. In the film production industry, six studios control over 90 percent of theater revenues. The newspaper industry is owned by only six major chains now. Book publishing industry is handled by seven firms and five largest groups account for all major music production in the country.

One may feel nostalgic about the good old days when the situation was not this drastic, and private families were free to own as much as they wanted to since there were communication regulations in place. One may even argue that after the deregulations bills were passed in 1996, things have started looking murkier with consolidations and clustering of firms at the forefront. But I will not debate at that forum.

The fact of the matter is then, and now, we have failed to understand the nature of capitalism to predict its inevitable trends. What the Washington Post article perhaps says could be a tribute to success of cell phone industries elsewhere in the world where more features are available for the users. But again, that’s a matter of relativity in discussion. What is crucial to understand here is neither the features and plans, nor the brand availabilities (although both these factors are attractive on the surface); but the true accessibility of the technology to all concerned.

In the race to have the best of the services limited to the few of us, is there a ceiling on the accessibility of technology? One would perhaps muse that contrary to my apprehensions, technology has become more accessible today than it was few decades back. But that would be to challenge the very nature of the collective course of human actions. Nothing will remain constant and progress is inevitable with collective endeavors at the research, training and development levels. A progress by default is merely a movement in propelled direction. Only a progress that inculcates struggles to uplift common aspirations is of any intrinsic value.

The gifts of technology, by and large have not been shared by the world populace. And in an era of abundant resources at our disposal and accompanying funds to realize many potentials, it should not come as a surprise as to why the distribution of technological assets has failed to earn commendable results.

The answer lies in the pattern of controlled and monopolized territories of technological know-hows and their ownerships. Even where there is an apparent distribution of access, it is owing to the “market demands”, not for human needs. Of course the phrase “market demands” is as elusive as one can get, considering that the market is as real as its proponents make it to be. The demands are “created” out of profit needs riding the waves of accompanying hypes (what they call in more civilized sense as ‘advertising’).

In this backdrop then it should come as no surprise to us when we see the entire media industry of America are dominated by three understanding, friendly (as long as they don’t consolidate further) mini empires called Time Warner, Disney and NewsCorp. There are scores of other rulers who are defined as new media monopolists by several research scholars and to avoid the academic traps I will not dwell on them. But just as a pointer to the issue than covering it comprehensively, I am deliberating here on the obvious questions we may need to scratch the surface for:

Cooperative economies have produced immense technological benefits. For instance, the erstwhile soviet system did produce the ultimate scientific progresses we have attained thus far: our exploration of the space. And yet we are ever so ready to dismiss the method while reaping the benefits claiming our consumerist society (where getting enslaved to market lures holds the key) as more conducive an environment for technological progress than the socialist society (where minimum standards defined lives of scientists and farmers alike—a notion entirely lost to the imagination of class society pundits).

However, without questioning the merits of competition and fairness –they are different concepts unfortunately, and no matter how soothing it may sound to some liberal economists, there is no such thing as ‘fair competition’ except in their utopian lexicon—one can safely preclude any form of competition from the capitalistic society.

Coming back to the Verizon staff, the four major telecom giants have a history of throttling competitions on their necks and emerging as “giants” than mere fellow traveling companies. The accompanying limitations of power-sharing are also mutually understood notions. The fact that they are monopolists fooling an entire country in a way Lincoln clearly knew– although he once said briefly you could not fool everyone all the time—is best paraphrased by Verizon’s best friend (in the press of course they are rivals and what-not) AT&T:

“This whole issue is a giant red herring. This is a fiercely competitive industry which has grown almost entirely through the force of competition in the marketplace, more innovative devices and services, and continually lower prices.” (AT&T spokesman Mark Siegel.)

If Verizon and AT&T are right, then the rest of us must be fools for sure. The question is for how long this grand Ayn Randian narrative of capitalism-as-citadel-of-competition will be believed? And for how long our media will report these as problems with “four major providers”, and not as inevitable consequence of capitalism?

Perhaps when our media wont be corporate themselves anymore. Well, that’s the point!

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Author: Saswat Pattanayak

Journalist, Generalist, Atheist, Poet, Lover, Photographer, Communist, Third wave Feminist, LGBT ally, Black power comrade, Peacenik, Anti-capitalist, Critical media theorist, Radical film critic, Academic non-elite…

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