In theory, spring has finally sprung. But forget crocuses and breathably warm air; the real sign of seasonal change is baseball, America’s favorite monopoly. Major League Baseball has the dubious distinction not only of being entirely exempt from antitrust law, but also being the only major league sport with such a privilege. With the start of the 2015 season still some days away, we have time to take a look at the history, and the possible future, of this quirk.
Budget airline Ryanair, of the standing room-only cabins idea, has big plans for its Irish rival Aer Lingus. But it can’t get down to that happy future of slashing customer comfort and stripping the flying experience down to bare bones just yet because the European Union has blocked its third attempt to acquire its competitor. [More]
Heather signed up for Verizon DSL service at her new place last September. So she’s been enjoying several months of cost-effective Internet service by now, right? Not exactly. Her story is a perfect illustration of why it is that monopolies can make customers miserable. The scheduled installation technician never showed up, troubleshooting of her service didn’t work, and when she tried to set up service again months later, they misplaced her account and kept hanging up on her.
A investigation by Prison Legal News exposes how prisons are getting fat kickbacks from telephone companies in order to land exclusive service contracts, which they then use to charge sky-high calling rates. There’s usually a connection charge of $3.00 or more and it can cost upwards of $.89 a minute. That means a 15-minute collect call can end up costing $10-$17. Compare that to the $.05 or $.10 most customers pay. Because the calls are often collect, it’s the prisoners’ families that end up paying the price.
I was on NPR this morning chiming in about the Comcast NBC merger that’s hurtling like a freight train through Washington (spoiler alert: not a fan). Here’s the clip. At the end, the reporter says that when he asked Comcast about their coming first in our Worst Company in America contest, they dismissed the entire affair as a “cheap stunt.” We take offense. A trophy that cost $30 and had to be air-mailed from Japan is not cheap.
Investigative reporter David Cay Johnston has discovered a dirty little tax secret pipeline owners would like to keep more hidden than a giant plume of oil under the ocean. Turns out that when you pump gas into your car, you’re actually paying oil pipeline owners’ income taxes.
The consumer group Consumer Watchdog is planning to ask the Justice Department to “launch an antitrust action against the search giant and seek remedies including a possible break up,” reports the San Francisco Chronicle. The group will host a press conference in Washington, D.C. tomorrow where it will argue that there’s enough evidence to warrant antitrust action from the feds.
The Comcast/NBC merger probably sucks for consumers, but it sure as hell sucks for other cable companies. Like, for example, WOW!. They are a smallish cable company that competes with Comcast in Chicagoland and in Detroit.
Yesterday a bunch of consumer advocates and anti-trust people held a press conference on Capitol Hill and asked the Department of Justice to block the Ticketmaster-Live Nation merger. If you, too, feel that this spells nothing but trouble for consumers–that a Ticketmaster-Live Nation monopoly would ruin competition and increase ticket prices–then check out the website TicketDisaster.org. From there, you can contact the DOJ to voice your opinion about the proposed merger, read up on reasons why the merger sucks for consumers and for the concert industry, and sign up for updates. (Thanks to JammingEcono!)
Hey, collective American society — did you ever wonder why that $3 billion in change sitting on your dresser went missing? The answer is rail companies made off with it. A May Consumer Federation of America study found that freight rail monopolies cost Americans that much because they were able to charge unfair prices due to the convenient lack of competition. The Journal of Commerce reports:
The city of Wilson, NC was tired of high internet, cable, and telephone prices, so they decided to do something about it. They started their own, city-owned, ISP. Now Time Warner Cable and Embarq have teamed up to convince North Carolina‘s legislature to propose bills outlawing community owned ISPs because the big guys cannot possibly compete.
That booming evil laughter you heard echoing across the sky earlier today came from the board room where Live Nation and Ticketmaster agreed to an all-stock merger between their two blighted companies. Ticketmaster Chairman Barry Diller says the merger will benefit customers, who are frequently “frustrated by their ticket buying experiences.” Oh! So by merging the two companies most responsible for those frustrations, we’ll cancel them out! This is doubleplus good, right?
Space. The final frontier. These are the voyages of Sirius-XM. Its continuing mission: to explore strange new anti-consumer practices. To seek out new revenue streams and crowd out new competitors. To boldly safeguard the dangerous monopoly granted last night by the FCC.
What does the XM-Sirius satellite radio merger mean for XM customers? Well, according to one customer service rep, it means mean prices are going to roughly double in May. Here’s what she said to one of our tipsters:
This is strictly confidential, but all the paperwork is signed and ready to go, and XM has fully acquired Sirius Radio. Come May, there will be a substantial price increase for XM Radio, as it will, in June or so, host all the Sirius channels. It would be best to simply extend your XM plan as we will honor your current contract price per month before we begin hosting the Sirius stations.
The tipster said he believed she said the price was going to double. Perhaps the customer service rep just wanted to score a renewal, but if true, it would certainly at least be ironic considering when the DOJ approved the deal was they said, “the evidence did not show that the merger would enable the parties to profitably increase prices to satellite radio customers.” However, reader comments on this post and this post over at Orbitcast say this customer service rep is full of pure baloney.
The FCC banned apartment buildings from signing exclusive deals with phone operators, allowing tenants to exercise consumer choice. [NYT]
Ever bought a diamond? You may be eligible for a piece of a multi-million class action lawsuit alleging that diamond giant DeBeers conspired to monopolize the diamond industry by fixing, raising, and controlling diamond prices, and by issuing false and misleading advertising. The class is open to anyone who bought any diamond from anyone from January 1, 1994 to March 31, 2006. $135,432,500 will be divided amongst all the approved consumer claimants.
After threats from US Senators and general hue and cry from sports fans, the NFL has caved and will allow NBC and CBS to simulcast the upcoming Giants-Patriots game in which Tom Brady and the boys may become the first team to go undefeated since the Miami Dolphins first did it in 1972, and the first team to go 16-0 in the regular season. The game will be available nationwide.
The moment of truth may be coming in the NFL Network/Cable showdown. This Thursday the NFL Network scored what is arguably the most interesting regular season game of the year (at least in the NFC): The 10-1 Packers vs. the 10-1 Cowboys. The trouble is, not a whole lot of people are going to be able to watch it outside of Dallas and Wisconsin.