AT&T scores again with the announcement that Yahoo and 176 newspapers will partner to share content, advertising and technology. AT&T, the monopoly reborn, is a huge provider of Internet services. Yahoo claims 131 million online users. The phone company funnels a significant volume of these users into the Yahoo portal as part of the provisioning of DSL services across the continent. That which benefits Yahoo benefits the phone company, and vice versa in terms of Internet services.
Who loses by these provisioning arrangements? I think the competition loses. The advertising money that is scraped off the table into Yahoo’s pockets is thus unavailable to broader market. A concentration of economic power founded in the phone company monopoly is thus intensified. I suspect that I as a customer of information services lose. The announced intention is to tag and bag local news, making information more generally available across the world. But local news has become a smaller and smaller part of the journalism delivery budget, and there is no reason to expect this association of big-index with big-journo will improve local reporting. Rather, this appears to be an arrangement like the AP that will help provide homogenized content to each of the members and drive local news out of the paper’s scarce column inches reserved for journalism.
Craig Newmark probably loses. He was eating the local papers’ collective lunch with Craig’s List. The partners can expect to wall off further losses and perhaps even regain some market share, particularly in the absence of network neutrality regulation. Or maybe I’m just paranoid to suspect that the phone company will assure a higher quality of service, better throughput, to Yahoo than they will to Craig’s List.
But there are always winners and losers in the marketplace. What criteria can we apply to determine whether or not this partnership is a good thing? I am not a fair judge. I threw away the Yahoo garbage that came with my DSL connection. Far from value added, I saw the Yahoo CD that AT&T gave me as an intrusion and an attempt to concentrate market power, an effort to limit my options rather than to expand them. The Yahoo CD joined the dozens of similar AOL blandishments in the county landfill. If I am one of the 131 million pairs of eyeballs that Yahoo counts, I must clarify that I am not a pair of sticky eyeballs. I do belong to some mail lists that are served through Yahoo. From time to time I have used Yahoo search, usually to cross-check results that I received from other search services. Never have I found an improved result, information available on Yahoo that wasn’t also as readily available elsewhere.
The global flowering of connectivity options that comprise the current state of the Internet would not have been possible in the highly regulated days of monopolistic phone company practices. The market is returning to monopoly conditions but the regulation is gone. That means, I think, that the phone company’s choices about the consumerization of network services will proceed to drive freedom of meaningful personal choice and creative opportunities out of the network. Would I rather have AT&T shareholders make these choices, or the government make these choices, or some combination of government and corporatocracy make these choices? No, I would rather these choices did not appear on the menu.
Will 2022 be too late to haul these bastards back into court to again disassemble the monopoly? Given the packed court and the erosion of statutes that formerly protected us from sharp business practices in restraint of trade, is it likely that a judicial solution exists? I don’t know the answers, but I am suspicious of any concentration of market power around the Yahoo yahoos when they are so clearly in bed with the master monopolists of the information age.