10 Corporate Behemoths Stifling Competition and Delivering Awful Service to You
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One of the fundamentals of free-market capitalism is that consumers benefit when competition is plentiful. If a business is selling a weak or inferior product, consumers can turn to the competition for a better deal. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt understood that, which is why a key element of his New Deal was the anti-trust, anti-monopoly legislation of the 1930s. Roosevelt firmly believed that large companies should be forced into a competitive environment whether they liked it or not, and that belief served the U.S. well for many years. But in recent decades, a variety of corporate lobbyists, far-right Republicans and neoliberal Democrats have shredded the New Deal and undermined anti-trust laws—thus encouraging corporations to grow larger and larger and engage in monopolistic practices.
Here are 10 mammoth corporations that detest free-market competition and do everything they can to stamp it out or greatly reduce it.
When Comcast acquired Greater Media’s cable TV operations in Philadelphia in 1999 and gained over 250,000 new cable television customers in the East Coast’s second largest city (thus expanding its Mid-Atlantic customer base to more than 2 million at that point), consumer rights advocates feared that the company was growing too large. But Comcast is a much larger company than it was 15 years ago: it has since acquired major companies ranging from NBC Universal to AT&T Broadband, and if the proposed Comcast/Time Warner Cable merger goes through, Comcast will have at least 30 million cable customers and an estimated 38% of the U.S.’ broadband customers. Despite being infamous for its poor customer service, Comcast keeps growing bigger and bigger, which is a reflection of its mammoth lobbying budget. Comcast spent $18.8 million on lobbying in 2013, and many politicians (both Republicans and Democrats) are afraid to challenge its monopolistic practices and force the company into genuine free-market competition.
Harming net neutrality will only add to the already-unfair advantage that telecom giants like Comcast and Verizon enjoy. Tom Wheeler, the new head of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), is a former lobbyist for the telecom industry—which, arguably, is a conflict of interest—and now, the FCC itself is undermining net neutrality by accepting the idea that ISPs can ask content providers to pay for preferential treatment.
Founded in 1901, the Monsanto Corporation has been in business for 113 years. Monsanto’s size has increased considerably along the way, and these days, it is a corporate bully that doesn’t hesitate to throw its weight around. Now the world’s dominant provider of controversial GMO (genetically modified organism) seeds, Monsanto has been quite aggressive about suing farmers for unauthorized use of its seeds—even if the farmer never intended to become a Monsanto customer. Percy Schmeiser (a canola farmer in Saskatchewan, Canada) was sued by Monsanto for a patent violation after GMO seeds from a neighbor’s canola plants drifted onto his land. Schmeiser has complained that Monsanto made it impossible for him to continue with his canola strain because he can’t prove his canola plants are Monsanto-free. Meanwhile, organic farmers have complained that because Monsanto’s GMO seeds are so ubiquitous in the U.S., it has become much harder for them to maintain organic standards. Monsanto hates competition, and its strong-arm tactics with Schmeiser and other farmers bear that out.
3. Blue Cross
During the healthcare reform debate of 2009 and 2010, Blue Cross and other health insurance giants used their lobbying muscle to make certain that the outcome—whether it was one favored by Democrats, Republicans or the Tea Party—would be more favorable to corporate profits than to consumers. Republicans and the Tea Party wanted to maintain the status quo, while some of the more liberal/progressive Democrats favored a public option that health insurance companies would have to compete with (a single-payer system was never on the table). Terrified at the thought of real competition, the health insurance industry spent a fortune lobbying against the establishment of a public option—and the law Democrats in Congress ended up passing in 2010, the Affordable Care Act, was greatly influenced by Republican ideas of the past (including those of the Heritage Foundation and 2006 GOP presidential candidate Bob Dole). The ACA does contain some positive reforms and has brought health insurance to millions of Americans who were unable to obtain it before, but it would have a lot more teeth had the health insurance industry not been unwilling to face real competition in the form of a public option.