Class, who can tell me what the Telecommunications Act of 1996 did to radio?
I teach a college media class, so my students know. But I doubt a percent of a percent of Americans does.
Spawned in a laboratory of a Republican Congress but given the electric jolt of life by Bill Clinton’s pen, the law lifted limits on ownership of radio stations.
It resulted in behemoths like Clear Channel (now named iHeart Media) and Cumulus gathering up stations like so many truffles.
Today iHeart Media owns 855 stations. Cumulus has 445.
In other words, deregulation fed radio to the hogs.
It resulted in massive monopolies, homogenization, the decimation of broadcasting jobs, and the loss of the local nature of radio with programming piped in from afar.
That piece of free-market folly came to mind as Texans endured the frozen fruits of electric deregulation.
First the blackouts. Then crippled water systems. Now unconscionable electric bills. Oh, and the excuses.
There really is no excuse — not even with a near-unprecedented freeze in Texas. A similar event happened in 2011, with the requisite mumble-fest about it not happening again.
However, what came to mind had nothing to do with once-every-decade winter calamities. It had to do with every-month electric bills in Texas.
A Wall Street Journal analysis finds that in 20-plus years of deregulated power, Texas customers paid $28 billion more than they would have in states with regulated electricity.
As one who resided in Texas and moved to a regulated market, I can affirm it. When I got my first power bill in Colorado, I had to rub my eyes. At first it looked like what I experienced in Texas, a sizable August bill. Unbelievably to me, what I assumed was my bill for electricity alone was actually for electricity AND natural gas.
Compared to my Texas energy bills, one for electricity, one for natural gas, I was getting natural gas for free.
Few who experienced deregulation in Texas could claim it saved them money or that the system was easy to understand and compare plans. The reason is clear. The breaking up of regulated utilities simply resulted in a few behemoths, aka monopolies, cornering the market.
And so, class: Deregulation equals monopolies. Monopolies don’t benefit consumers. But they do benefit – somebody.
We know those somebodies to be investors, boards of directors, CEOs, corporate consumers.
That’s how deregulation works. That’s how it always works. Deregulation awards the big and penalizes the small. It awards sameness and penalizes difference.
The power of deregulation is just something in which certain factions want to believe. Facts be damned.
Like tax cuts paying for themselves.
Like climate change being a hoax.
Like COVID-19 being overblown.
Like Donald Trump being a visionary, not a grifter.
Like calling NPR and network news and print newspapers fake news.
Like the free market being our savior, no matter the task.
Deregulation saves nothing, particularly when dealing with the most crucial of human needs – air, power, water, medical care.
It’s one thing to deregulate airlines as was done in 1978. Not everyone flies. But everyone needs electricity and water. Everyone needs health care and life-saving drugs.
The thing is that often deregulation and privatization aren’t even done for the reasons purported – to do the job better at less cost to taxpayers.
Back in the previous decade, under the Rick Perry regime, Texas privatized mental health services. I sought to find out how much this was saving the taxpayers, and to what end. The answers: Private bidders weren’t expected to outperform state services, cost-wise. The privatization was the thing.
This is called putting the cart before the horse, or in the case of deregulation, the truffles before the swine.
Why? Because the ideologues in charge believe in all of these things, especially for their pals.
Back to radio and deregulation: The punch line about the battlefield spoils gained by media giants is that with ad revenue shrinking and having over-extended itself, iHeart Media sought the government’s shelter in obtaining Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Hmm. Just like business genius Donald Trump.
Who will protect Texans whose electric service went to the hogs?
Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.