Competition Comes to the Cable Industry


Competition!

President Barack Obama will publicly back regulators’ efforts to open cable set-top boxes to competition, as he issues an executive order Friday designed to stimulate market competition across the private sector.

The order will task federal agencies with identifying markets that the government might be able to help overhaul to the benefit of consumers and businesses. White House officials said federal action can do for the set-top cable box what regulators did for landline telephones more than 30 years ago. Back then, many Americans paid the phone company not only for their landline connection, but for renting the physical phone itself.

Good for Obama. The cable industry is one of the least competitive in the country—and, not coincidentally, one of the least loved. This action won’t open up the cable infrastructure itself to competition, but at least it will open up one small part of it.

Like Ma Bell a few decades ago, you can expect the cable companies to issue dire warnings about the vast technical difficulties of making sure cable boxes work properly with their delicate lines, but don’t believe it. It’s all just hogwash. The technical specifications for interconnection aren’t rocket science, and they can be reasonably regulated the same way phone equipment is.

Competition is good. Competition is good. Competition is good. The only people who don’t like it are the monopolists who profit from extracting rents from the rest of us. Anything that increases it is a net positive benefit.