Broadband Industry To American Public: Who Needs Open Internet Rules When You Can Just Take Our Word For It?

from the trust-us! dept

Hundreds of thousands of concerned citizens recently asked the FCC to protect the open Internet, but broadband providers filed comments that are the hundreds of pages equivalent of “take our word for it, everything will be fine” or “move along, nothing to see here.” In preparing our reply comments to the FCC’s open Internet proceeding, we’ve been examining the most recent comments of the big fixed and mobile broadband providers like Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T.

What we found could be striking or completely obvious, but is probably both at the same time. Broadband providers primarily occupy themselves with aggressive posturing and finger-pointing aimed at content providers like Netflix and backbone providers like Cogent and Level 3. The big industry players’ comments also make clear that the big broadband providers apparently do live in an alternate universe to most Americans. In this universe, the vast majority of Americans can easily switch between an ample number of broadband providers on a whim, and where any real rules to protect the open Internet as we know it are unnecessary because… well, because… just take our word for it.

Here are some of the lowlights:


“If a provider were to block or degrade Internet applications or content, the provider would incur substantial subscriber losses and reputational harm. Thus, in order to undertake such a strategy, a broadband provider would first need to conclude that any theoretical benefits of the strategy outweigh these very real costs.” (pg. 6)

Ok, a couple points here. First, the basic assumption that this argument relies on is that subscribers actually have another provider to switch to, which many people who live in Comcast territory know is simply fantasy. That said, the point about reputational harms also seems to ignore the fact that broadband providers are already considered the worst companies in America. Subscriber bases and profits are maintained due to these companies entrenched, excessive market power, not customer service. But then, I suppose you can?t blame Comcast for trying: They were neck and neck with Monsanto this year for “worst company in America.”

After discussing at length the importance of a mercurial, end-around category of “specialized services,” and why the FCC should properly leave them beyond the scope of Open Internet rules, Comcast states:

“While it is unnecessary to impose additional mandates on specialized services, the Commission should clarify the definition of specialized services to provide increased certainty regarding the scope of its open Internet rules.” (pg. 30, emphasis added)

Comcast?s argument here can best be summed up as follows: “Specialized services are perhaps the greatest thing we have ever thought of, and the FCC has wisely chosen to not regulate them. By the way, what are specialized services anyway?” If you?re confused, you?re not alone.

Who’s next?


“A policy of impeding access [instituted by a broadband provider] to services customers wish to access would only push those customers to other providers. Other ISPs face the same incentives. Under these ? in which users demand access to all lawful content and ISPs are committed to fulfilling customers? needs ? there is no need for a prescriptive no-blocking rule.” (pg. 26)

Verizon asks that we set aside any silly preconceived notions we may have about the lack of alternative providers (discussed above) and how poorly broadband providers have been known to respond to their subscribers (Matt Stone and Trey Parker may have summed it up best already), and then essentially says that we hardly need rules in place when we can just take their word for it.

“Just because the Commission could prohibit such practices [such as blocking or degrading content] in some contexts, does not mean that it should do so at the present time and instead could wait to see whether any such theorized harms actually materialize.” (pg. 37)

Translation: Just because the Commission could stop us from experimenting in ways that break the open Internet to extract more money from both content providers and our subscribers does not mean they should do that. Instead, why don’t we wait to even think about doing anything until we’ve locked in business practices that ensure the open Internet as we know it disappears?

“Applying Title II to the American broadband industry would be like tying a cinder block to the ankle of an Olympic sprinter in the midst of a race and then wishing her luck.” (pg. 50)

You should first know that Verizon spent a fair amount of time making accusing proponents of Open Internet regulations of being “sensationalistic” and “superficial” and of spouting “politically motivated fantasy.” The only “fantasy” here is Verizon likening the American broadband industry to an Olympic sprinter. It is more akin to Godzilla: more prone to simply crush the competition than to race against them.


“To engage in end-to-end prioritization of Internet traffic across connecting networks, it would be necessary to have a system coordinated among edge providers, backbone providers, and ISPs to mark certain packets for priority and to handle them accordingly. No such system exists today.? (pg. 18)

AT&T may be right that no such system of coordination between edge providers, backbone providers, and ISPs exists today, but that overlooks the reality that broadband providers have already found a better way to achieve this goal while also cutting out backbone providers: Directly connecting to edge providers, like Comcast has done with Netflix. Not only that, but cutting out the middle man (backbone providers) has an added benefit for last-mile providers (like Comcast and AT&T) in that it cuts off revenue sources for backbone providers (as edge providers rely on their data transport services less often), weakening them and making them more susceptible to increasing demands from the last-mile broadband providers like Comcast, Verizon, AT&T and others.

The FCC has an opportunity here to spur competition and innovation, but it starts with recognizing that “take our word for it,” “move along, nothing to see here” are not the cornerstones of a framework to protect an open Internet.

Art Neill is the Founder and Executive Director of New Media Rights, and Kyle Reynolds is a legal intern with New Media Rights. New Media Rights is a nonprofit program that provides legal services and advocacy for internet users and creators.

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Companies: at&t, comcast, verizon

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Comments on “Broadband Industry To American Public: Who Needs Open Internet Rules When You Can Just Take Our Word For It?”

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andypandy says:


The link to the South Park video is not accessible in the UK or Ireland, no wonder people use pirate sites to access content when everything is behind locked doors, one of the things that need to be resolved is this region blocking , it is harming content creators and consumers. I don’t care a shit about copyright laws they are not an issue to anyone but those using them as weapons, stop the region blocks by installing a simple app , available for all browsers, just do a google search. But it is still not acceptable and is proof that copyright laws are irrelevant and should be broken where possible.

Lurker Keith says:


It also asked me to turn off my ad blocker. Instead, I did a search on YouTube to find what was probably the relevant clip (the kids at the cable company).

Btw, did anyone notice that that cable company’s logo looked suspiciously like Ubisoft’s? I doubt that was coincidence, given that it’s South Park.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Assuming they are telling the truth... LOL

Reminds me of the SOPA fights, when those defending it were adamant that the concerns people had were overblown, and it would never be used as people feared it would be… only to fight tooth and nail against any proposed amendments that would legally prohibit the very actions they were assuring people would never happen.

Very much a case, like now, where their words say that they would never do something, but their actions say the exact opposite.

beech says:

I feel like you forgot to mention that even IF there is some broadband competition where you live, AND you wanted to switch away from your provider because they aren’t net neutral, 1)there’d probably be a huge contract termination fee, and 2) whatever other provider available in your area is probably also going to be violating net neutrality in the exact same way. It’s the same reason why no cableco feels the need to provide a decent customer service line. If an area only has comcast and verizon available, and both companies are committed to provide the worst customer support possible, who is really going to switch from “bad” to “also bad”?

From The Authors says:

Links to the comments

If you are feeling particularly adventurous (or masochistic), you can find the full comments of the providers on the FCC’s website by searching the comment database. Links to particular provider comments are below:




Anonymous Coward says:

>”If a provider were to block or degrade Internet applications or content, the provider would incur substantial subscriber losses and reputational harm. Thus, in order to undertake such a strategy, a broadband provider would first need to conclude that any theoretical benefits of the strategy outweigh these very real costs.” (pg. 6)

Is that then why Comcast has been consistently rated the worst customer service in the United States? All that degradation of internet and throttling of bandwidth?

jackpollard (profile) says:

Some of the smartest IT people in the world

OK, I’m with everyone here, we have no choice and the ISP’s are pure scum. You know as well as I do, we will lose this war, money talks and no-one really cares about the facts. I believe we have some of the best and brightest, who cares if they even work for the NSA, CIA. Can’t we figure out how to push mesh networking more main stream? We need a new technology not owned by anyone, like the web was once. How do we get rid of relying on the ISP’s? There has to be a way.

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