Time Warner's "20 Mbps service" on a good day in Southern California

So why is it that you can't watch Empire, Utopia, or other top-ranked TV or cable shows live on the Internet?

Don't blame Netflix, it's more likely that your cable TV or satellite provider has its thumb on the hose.

To put it simply, big cable companies pay program producers a lot of money to redistribute their product. The value of that product is reduced if the producers make it available on the Internet. To prevent that, the cable companies insert clauses into their contracts that either prohibit distribution on the Internet or reduce the price they're willing to pay for content that winds up on the Web. 

The question of how much influence big cable companies have over distribution of shows on the Internet is being studied by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) as it considers the merger of Charter Communications and Time Warner Cable.

Should be considered

The FCC recently invited several big media firms, including Disney and 21st Century Fox, to discuss the contract clauses that big cable companies use to restrict Internet streaming. No one is saying exactly what was said, but a Disney spokesman told the Wall Street Journal that the "FCC should, of course, consider these issues."

The Charter-Time Warner merger would create a colossus nearly as large as Comcast, so it is seen as a prime target for some kind of FCC action to prevent cable companies from using their might to bottle up prime content and prevent consumers from "cutting the cord," dumping cable and getting all their TV programming from the Web. 

Charter has said that any restrictions should be placed on all cable companies, not just a combined Charter-Time Warner. But critics, including five Democratic U.S. senators, have expressed "significant concern" about the merger, suggesting it would create a "broadband duopoly" that would leave the combined company in control of nearly two thirds of the nation's broadband homes.

In a letter to the FCC and Attorney General Loretta Lynch, the senators say that cable companies are "essential gatekeepers to what customers watch and how they watch it." Signing the letter were Sens. Edward Markey (D-MA), Al Franken (D-MN), Bernie Sanders (D-VT), Ron Wyden (D-OR), and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA).

What to do

The FCC commissioners are presidential appointees. If you want more competition in cable and broadband service, let your Congressional representatives know how you feel about it. You can find their addresses at and

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