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“Forced Extortion”: Cable Television Is Just A Cartel

Today’s cable television model forces consumers to pay for dozens of channels they don’t want in order to get the handful of channels that they do want. It is ostensibly a cartel, with industry profits built entirely on the consumer’s back. If you don’t like the model, too bad.  There is no alternative. What’s worse, this arrangement is “blessed” by government regulations.

If given a choice, most parents would choose not to subsidize the sexually-charged content on MTV. Some people might not want ESPN. Others may only want news or movie channels. Cable choice, where consumers decide for themselves which channels they want to purchase, is a realistic solution for all of us who face sharply higher costs every year without fail.

The Federal Communications Commission just released new data showing that the average monthly price increase for expanded basic cable service continues to far outpace inflation, just as it has done for more than a decade. Choosing video content has become a lot easier, except for cable. One reason for this anomaly is an outdated and arcane federal regulation such as the 1992 Cable Act.

The Cable Act requires cable companies to offer a “basic tier” that consumers must buy before they can purchase other services. Other programming is only provided in bundles of additional networks – a forced-extortion scheme that causes us to pay for more than we need or want. For instance, more than $100 of our annual cable bill goes to the ESPN networks, regardless of whether we are sports fans. Media outlets have reported that the ESPN networks, owned by ABC/Disney and forced onto every cable subscriber, reflects nearly 20 percent of the wholesale cost of cable programming, yet it reflects only 2 percent of viewership.

Such a model clearly lacks a demand curve. And whether you get your video via cable, satellite or Telco-delivered video service, the package and price are about the same.

In a true free market, prices reflect what the marketplace dictates. If consumers knew what they were paying for each cable network in their bundle, they could make an informed decision about which networks they actually wanted to buy.  And the cable networks would be forced to compete for the consumers’ business, instead of perpetuating the near-monopoly powers they currently hold.

It’s time for the cable industry either to voluntarily join the free marketplace for its products and services, or it must be forced to do so through the same regulatory means that allow it to operate like a cartel in the first place. In the meantime, consumers will continue to be fleeced by exorbitant cable price increases, mostly for networks they don’t even want.

 

By: Timothy F. Winter, The Debate Club, U. S. News and World Report, September 17, 2013

September 18, 2013 Posted by | Consumers, Media | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Orange Is The New Black”: It’s Time To End The Needless Social Harm Our Justice System Inflicts

America is facing up to one of its greatest failures: our grossly unfair criminal justice system.

In and out of the public eye, corrections officials, legislatures and law enforcement authorities have been inching toward reforming it.

Attorney General Eric Holder announced a historic about-face on how low-level, nonviolent drug crimes will be prosecuted; in particular, he instructed U.S. attorneys to avoid bringing charges against certain offenders that would trigger severe federal mandatory sentencing. If allowed to go forward, Holder’s gambit could lead to significant reductions in the number of people locked up in America.

The U.S. holds the distinction of the world’s highest incarceration rate. One in every 100 adults — 2.3 million people — was behind bars in 2010, according to the Pew Center on the States.

Holder’s announcement is the obvious follow-up to the 2010 Fair Sentencing Act. The legislation sought to correct the inequities between the sentencing of people caught with crack cocaine and those convicted of crimes related to powdered coke. Five grams of crack, the form of cocaine more likely to be in the possession of African-Americans, carried the same obligatory sentence as that triggered by 500 grams of powder, the preference for many white people.

An ongoing issue is whether the legislation will apply retroactively, something that both Congress and the courts are weighing.

A July report by the Pew Charitable Trusts found that about half the states have taken significant steps in recent years to reduce the size of their prison populations, thereby cutting costs to taxpayers. Reforms such as alternative sentencing and lower mandatory sentences for some crimes all played a role.

Also this summer, the Federal Communications Commission voted to lower interstate prison phone rates. This change helps the families of more than 2 million inmates who often paid predatory rates when their incarcerated loved ones called them. The decision was more than 10 years in the making and will greatly affect the ability of families to stay in touch, crucial for reducing recidivism.

While these changes are encouraging, reshaping America’s prisons and our punitive mentality will not be easy. What is the human cost of our penchant for revenge, our emphasis on punishment without much attention to the equal need for rehabilitation? Just consider the newest Muppet introduced by the Sesame Workshop. “Alex,” whose story appears online only, is a character whose father is serving time.

Alex was introduced for a good reason. One in 28 children has a parent who is imprisoned. More than half of America’s prisoners are mothers and fathers with a child under the age of 18. And two-thirds of those parents are incarcerated for nonviolent offenses.

Consider that deeply. It’s the equivalent of nearly one child from every elementary school classroom in America. Twenty-five years ago, the number was 1 in 125.

Are people really that much more criminally minded than in the past? Or did America decide that locking people up would be more expedient than providing addiction treatment and mental health care and increasing the supervision of those on parole?

It’s not a tough question. And after years of policy that financed the war on drugs, more thoughtful considerations are finally gaining traction.

The fact that violent crime rates are at near generational lows helps. Cutting some sentences, providing more support for low-level offenders, can save on the high cost of prisons for taxpayers, without compromising public safety.

And don’t tell me that this is being “soft on crime.” Those involved in violent and repeat offenses will still have the book thrown at them.

The more the public learns about how mandatory sentencing needlessly degrades nonviolent drug offenders and harms their families, the sooner our legislators will restore sanity and mercy to the criminal justice system. So bravo to Netflix for creating the new series Orange is the New Black. Yes, it’s another “insider’s view” of life behind bars, a genre we can’t get enough of. It conveys the experiences of an educated, well-to-do woman used as a pawn in the drug trade, based on a memoir.

Kudos also to Piper Kerman, the memoir’s author and the one who experienced 11 months in a low-security women’s prison for a drug crime, who is also speaking out about the children of inmates.

She’s using her newfound celebrity to promote alternative, in-home sentencing for some mothers with small children. As she wrote in The New York Times, this program would not only save money but also “rehabilitate women … (and) keep families together — which we know is an effective way to reduce crime and to stop a cycle that can condemn entire families to the penal system.”

And that, more than ever, needs to be our priority.

 

By: Mary Sanchez, The National Memo, August 20, 2013

August 21, 2013 Posted by | Criminal Justice System | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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