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Rural Missouri Magazine

Monopoly satellite service

by Frank Stork

Bigger is not always better. When it comes to rural services, mergers, which create one big unregulated company, are seldom an improvement.

Take for example the current talks between two satellite TV companies who now compete for customers in rural Missouri. They say they want to become one big company to provide better service at lower cost.

What's that, we might ask? As my grandpa Joe might have suggested, "Let's run that heifer by the gate one more time to get a better look at it."

EchoStar and DIRECTV say they are motivated to merge their two companies, leaving only one, to benefit their rural customers. As we find that hard to comprehend, we might ask them to show us how it would work. Show us, if you can, how we will benefit when forced to buy a service from an unregulated monopoly whose objective is to maximize profits.

There may be more at stake here than television programming. Satellite telecommunications technology has advanced rapidly in the last decade. Changes in the transfer of data via satellite for business, education and health care will change even more dramatically in the years ahead.

Future high-speed data transfer capability will become essential to our everyday lives. Much of that data will reach us through coaxial cable or satellite. For the most part, rural residents don't have access to cable.

We have only two satellite companies competing for our television broadcast business. Would this merger lead to more mergers limiting telecommunications services for rural customers?

The architects of this rural satellite merger/monopoly idea came up with some dandy arguments to advance their plan. Some of their "dandiest" are: 1. Our merger into one company will allow rapid advances in technology which will benefit rural people. 2. We can cut our operating costs and pass the savings on to our captive customers. 3. Because an unregulated monopoly business can charge more, increased company profits will eventually trickle down as savings to our rural subscribers.

Grandpa Joe would have figured out what those three (heifers) were all about the first time they ran by the gate!

We need to stay on alert as this issue is discussed in Congress and reviewed by the Justice Department and the Federal Communications Commission.

Our National Rural Telecommunications Cooperative, owned and controlled by rural satellite subscribers, is already deep into this fight. They represent and protect our rural telecommunication interests and we need to give them our support.

Stork was executive vice president of the Association of Missouri Electric Cooperatives and a member of Three Rivers Electric Co-op.

Rural Missouri magazine - November 2014
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