Staff Editorial — Consumer catastrophe

Time Warner’s refusal to carry Disney programming on its cable distribution networks, while apparently legal, greatly inconvenienced television viewers and rests on shaky ethical grounds.

Disney, owner of the ABC network, is one of Time Warner’s fiercest competitors. As such, no love was lost between the two in the contract dispute that led to this controversy. But bad feelings aside, both companies have an obligation to television viewers to provide open access to a wide variety of programming outlets. Bickering over the price of carrying that programming is one thing; blocking consumers’ access to services to which they subscribe and for which they paid is entirely unacceptable. Companies must look to what is best for the consumers they serve rather than to the bottom line. Only then will a corporation’s actions be ethical and responsible.

Consumers and regulators may see the move against Disney by Time Warner as retaliation for seeking to block the proposed AOL-Time Warner merger. They may also recognize a fundamental principal of the American economy: unfettered monopolies do a disservice to the individual consumer.

Yes, consolidating services simplifies the billing process. And yes, sometimes that consolidation leads to lower prices. But on occasions like these, the true damage wrought upon consumers by monopolistic enterprise becomes starkly apparent. Certainly Time Warner’s subsidiary cable companies would not refuse to carry CNN, HBO, Headline News or TBS – all Time Warner networks. Time Warner’s actions are clearly anti-competitive.

Unlike the ongoing Microsoft case, the law appears to be on the side of an overzealous monopoly in the Time Warner-Disney dispute even if sound ethics and responsibility to consumers are not.

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