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Captive Audience: The Telecom Industry and Monopoly Power in the New Gilded Age Hardcover – January 8, 2013

4.2 out of 5 stars 216 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


“Important and provocative.” —Sam Gustin, Time.com
(Sam Gustin Time.com)

“Federal regulatory agencies make definitional decisions in the lives of Americans. But they are little covered by our diminished media; and even when the stories are told, they tend to be told from the perspective of the powerful. That’s what makes Susan Crawford’s book . . . so remarkable. She gets the facts straight—I know, because I was there. But she also does something just as important: she puts the facts in perspective, providing readers with an analysis that is essential if we are ever going to forge communications policies that serve all Americans." —Micheal J. Copps, Former FCC Chairman, The Nation
(Michael J. Copps The Nation 2013-04-12)

“With an appealing blend of earnestness and feistiness, Crawford is set on turning the sorry state of broadband and wireless services in the United States into the biggest populist outrage since Elizabeth Warren went after banks.” —John B. Judis, The New Republic
(John B. Judis The New Republic)

“Crawford shows us that the railroad barons of today run cable companies. These monopolies raise prices, stifle competition, and drag the U.S. further behind in global telecommunications revolution.”—Clay Shirky, author of Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations
(Clay Shirky 2012-03-23)

“Crawford argues persuasively that the unchecked power of telecom giants has removed incentives for progress.”—Paul Krugman, The New York Times
(Paul Krugman The New York Times)

About the Author

Susan Crawford is a visiting professor at Harvard Law School and a fellow at the Roosevelt Institute. She lives in New York City.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press; 1St Edition edition (January 8, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300153139
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300153132
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (216 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #563,343 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Timothy P. Karr on January 8, 2013
Format: Hardcover
The Internet turned 30 last week.

On Jan. 1, 1983, engineers launched the basic protocol for sharing bits between computers, setting in motion the networked world we live in today. Susan Crawford's book is published as the Internet enters its middle years, and it offers a timely diagnosis of the problems Americans face as we try to make the most of our digital age.

Crawford's basic prognosis is this: Internet users can no longer take the network for granted. For too long we have allowed powerful phone and cable incumbents to dictate Internet policy in America. The result is reflected in international rankings of broadband access and services, which have the United States falling far behind other developed nations. The tendency among paid corporate apologists and shills (one of whom has made an appearance in these reviews) is to blame the American geography for this decline: We're a rural nation that isn't as easily connected as, say, Singapore, they argue. Another tendency is to put the regulators at fault: If only we unchained the invisible hand of the marketplace, then the American Internet would be Numero Uno.

The truth, as Crawford points out lies somewhere else -- in our policymakers' failure to put the interests of the nation before those of profitable companies. Lobbying powerhouses like AT&T. Comcast and Verizon have flexed their financial muscle in Washington to ensure that the billion-dollar spoils of the Internet access business are shared only among a few corporations. The policies resulting from this largesse have led to the destruction of a competitive marketplace. Most Americans buying home Internet access today have just two choices: the local monopoly phone company or the local monopoly cable provider.
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Although I was generally aware of the issues covered in the book, Crawford does an excellent job of painting a thorough picture of the extent to which our federal and state regulators are failing America's future by capitulating to Big Telco. With all of the other issues our nation is currently facing, it's easy to bump national broadband Internet access down the list. But we do so at the peril of our nation's innovation economy which increasingly relies on world-class broadband access. Data shows we're already behind most other developed nations in terms of paying the highest prices for the lowest access speeds, which is pretty sad for a nation which led the creation of the Internet in the first place. Our position will continue to slip as long as the FCC fails to regulate broadband Internet access as a common-carrier utility and state legislatures impede municipal fiber network deployment.
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Format: Hardcover
As the new Millennium began, America led the world in adoption of Internet access; ten years later we'd fallen far behind most industrialized nations in terms of speed and prices charged. Most Americans receive Internet via slow copper wires, and nearly 30% aren't connected at all. Only 7% of Americans are connected to optical fiber, vs. nearly half for South Korea, Japan, and Hong Kong; meanwhile, our service costs about 6X that in Hong Kong and 5X that in Stockholm. Crawford's book tells the story of how the Comcast-NBCU merger occurred (paid $13.8 billion), helping this oligopoly situation.

Comcast is the communications equivalent of Standard Oil in the Rockefeller era. Even before its merger with NBC Universal it was the nation's largest cable operator and the owner of many cable content properties - including 11 regional sports networks. It had almost 16 million subscribers. NBC Universal owned some of the most popular cable networks and one of the largest broadcast networks. The merged company would control 20% of all television viewing in the U.S. Mobile wireless is too slow to compete.

A similar situation happened in the 1880s when 15 holding companies controlled 85% of electricity distribution, and the FTC found they routinely gouged consumers. In response, thousands of communities formed their own electrical utilities, more than 2,000 U.S. communities such as L.A., San Antonio, and Seattle, provide their own power, and electricity is a regulated public utility. Only a few cities provide their own Internet service (eg. Chattanooga, TN and Lafayette, LA) , there's no regulation of Internet rates and service, and the leaders reap 95% profit rates.
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Format: Hardcover
Having followed Crawford's coverage of this vexing roadblock to American excellence for the last few years, this book does not disappoint.

She accurately pinpoints the causes and characters behind the United States' lag of the developed world in the broadband space. That lag is one entirely of the telecom industry's own making (that is of course aided and abetted by Congress), and which restricts the platform for growth and participation by the wider American workforce. As someone who resides in an area with limited, expensive and unreliable broadband service, I am intimately familiar with the stranglehold the lack of adequate and affordable broadband has on our regional economy, and on the vitality of our population. When you multiply this situation which is repeated in rural areas around the country - and compare our levels of adoption with other nations - it becomes clear how this critical avenue for national productivity growth is being throttled by the interests of one industry. Why should we inhibit the productivity of all other industries and small business in favor of one sector?

I truly hope both the essence and details of Crawford's message gets to our politicians - including newly-engaged legislators like Elizabeth Warren - and our country embraces the broadband policy changes needed to enable the American economy to fire on all cylinders.
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