Factually Challenged Op-ed Insists Google Greed Is Behind FCC's Desire For More Set Top Box Competition

from the Google-ate-my-homework dept

We’ve noted how the FCC recently voted to bring some much-needed competition to the cable set top box market. Thanks to limited competition consumers still pay $231 annually for what’s often garbage hardware — hardware used to lock consumers inside the increasingly out-dated cable walled garden. As a fact sheet circulated by the agency (pdf) makes clear, the effort will simply involve cable companies delivering their content to third-party hardware using any generally accepted technology and the copy protection of their choice.

But we’ve also been noting how the cable industry is waging an all out public relations war against the idea. For the moment that war is being brought to bear most notably in the editorial sections of websites and newspapers all over the country, where a rotating crop of individuals — most hiding their connection to cable industry cash — have professed that the FCC’s plan is everything from an attack on minorities to an invitation to piracy Armageddon. But the most common refrain continues to be that this is all just some kind of villainous plot by Google to freeload off the cable industry.

Why Google? Cable and phone company executives utterly loathe the search giant. Not only because of Google’s history supporting net neutrality (though that’s wavered in years since) and a general envy of the company’s ad revenues (you ain’t gonna ride my pipes for free!), but because Google Fiber is now disrupting the broadband space. As such, fighting a pro-consumer, pro-competitive initiative while somehow maligning Google is a perfect day over in cable land, even if the logic supporting these attacks makes absolutely no god-damned sense.

Take this new editorial over at the New York Times as just one such example. It breathlessly proclaims the FCC’s plan will somehow “hand our TVs over to Google” and allow Google to “continue its questionable conduct” on other fronts in the TV sector:

“The F.C.C.?s proposal would give Google free access to the raw TV programming data it needs to power its search engine for TV. In effect, Google could use the data to become the modern version of the program guide, connecting users to the TV shows and movies that Google?s search algorithms determine are relevant.

It?s a simple concept: Turn on the TV, search for what you want to watch, scan the results, and then click on a link to start watching your favorite show or sporting event. But Google is missing a key ingredient for its search-centric TV. It lacks access to providers? proprietary programming information ? what shows are available when. Google cannot show a full list of TV programs in its search results without first entering into licensing agreements with cable companies to obtain that data.”

That’s nonsense. The goal of the FCC’s plan is to open up the cable set top box for everybody — not just Google. And does anybody seriously believe that the one key thing that has frustrated Google engineers is that it can’t ascertain what time programs air? No, what frustrates Google — and every other company with a foot in the streaming box ecosystem — is the cable industry’s vice-like stranglehold over pay TV hardware.

Again, it wouldn’t just be Google that received programming data — it would be every and any company that wants to jump into the suddenly competitive set top box space. And it’s not like the cable industry still isn’t going to be paid an arm and a leg by consumers to watch TV — that programming is just going to be delivered by better, faster, cheaper hardware — with DRM and most everything else still intact. Cable’s opposition is, and always has been, about protecting the $21 billion in captive set top rental revenue the cable industry enjoys annually. All other justifications for the industry’s opposition are entirely decorative.

And while the reform effort would help any company wanting to build a set top box, Google’s missteps are specifically highlighted in painstaking detail over and over again by author Jonathan Kanter, who has spent a large portion of his career not-so-coincidentally helping Microsoft dodge antitrust inquiries at Cadwalader Wickersham & Taft, a law firm also frequently employed by the telecom sector. As such, some of Google’s missteps appear to have been somewhat hallucinated by Kanter. Like this claim that Google’s MO is to introduce a free product, then “close off competition” through discrimination and exclusion:

“Google is said to have followed the same playbook for years: introducing a free product into a competitive space, subsidizing that product with advertising revenue, and then closing off competition through discriminatory and exclusionary practices.”

Uh, citation needed? When has Google ever actually done that last bit? If there’s an industry that engages in “discriminatory and exclusionary practices” it’s the cable industry the FCC’s rules are targeting. You’ll note though at no point does Kanter really explain why the FCC’s taking action in the first place. Why did the chicken cross the road? Uh, Google! Kanter then trots out a number of just plain wrong history lessons to try and cement what was an already shaky point:

“In April 2015, for instance, the European Commission filed formal charges against Google, saying it rigged search results to favor its own content. Similarly, a Federal Trade Commission staff memo from 2012 revealed that Google regularly favors itself even over better alternatives.

Right, but Kanter ignores that the FTC also found that Google’s experimentation was driven in large part to provide a better customer experience, not anti-competitive villainy. Other criticism of Google throughout the editorial is similarly incomplete or conflated:

“Google also seems to favor sites that rely on ads rather than subscription fees, a practice that has cut into news outlets? profit margins. These kinds of practices starve content providers of revenue and chill investment in content creation.

Except that as a search engine Google can’t magically see behind paywalls (and users often don’t want to visit those sites anyway), so giving non-paywalled, ad-driven content a priority kind of makes sense. Again though, all of this finger pointing at Google is designed to shift the conversation away from the reason the FCC decided to take action in the first place: the cable industry and its own robust history of anti-competitive behavior, something Kanter just daintily floats over without mentioning it’s the reason we’re having this conversation in the first place.

No, Kanter’s key refrain is that the FCC’s plan is all about letting Google take the cable industry’s hard-earned work and pass it off as its own. As such, he argues, Google should be heavily regulated before such villainous ambitions can take root:

“If the F.C.C. provides Google with the data it needs to build its search-based set-top, it should take significant steps to prevent Google from continuing its questionable conduct. At a minimum, the F.C.C. should require Google to commit to search neutrality, transparency, adherence to privacy standards and restrictions on anticompetitive bundling.”

So wait, just so we’re clear, your ingenious solution for the cable industry’s aggressive walled garden anti-competitive stranglehold over set top box hardware is — to regulate Google? And for years we’ve pointed out that the idea of “search neutrality” is bullshit. Throughout the net neutrality debate it was the cry of a telecom sector and its various policy tendrils, all pretending to be willfully oblivious to why physical, last mile services without competition (broadband) aren’t regulated exactly the same as Internet services that users can choose not to use.

And buried under the Op-ed’s conflations and bizarre omissions, that’s just the thing the editorial intentionally misses — quite painfully. Increasing set top box competition means that consumers would have a choice of set top boxes. As such, they could choose one that doesn’t rely on Google technology if this is really such a concern for them. Of course it isn’t — the great Google set top antitrust albatross is a giant red herring being pushed by cable operators via an endless number of similar editorials. All of them carry the same message: don’t open up the stagnant cable set top box market to competition or Google will run away with your daughter and pee on your azaleas.

Again it’s a bunch of nonsense intended to misdirect the public from a central truth of the set top box debate: the cable industry is absolutely terrified of losing a central pillar in its quest to ensure cable remains a closed, walled garden ecosystem. Opening the set top box market to competition not only kills $21 billion in captive annual revenues, it suddenly opens the door to cheaper, better, more open hardware platforms — built by companies with no qualms about pushing traditional cable customers toward alternative streaming options.

Filed Under: , , , , , , ,
Companies: google

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “Factually Challenged Op-ed Insists Google Greed Is Behind FCC's Desire For More Set Top Box Competition”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
PaulT (profile) says:

“It’s a simple concept: Turn on the TV, search for what you want to watch, scan the results, and then click on a link to start watching your favorite show or sporting event.”

So… just like YouTube or Netflix, then? Depending on the TV, you may not even need a box connected for those.

Artificial restrictions aside, if he thinks that’s unique and that access to programming data (which has other sources, surely?) is all that’s stopping Google from killing them, they have a very weak business.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Yeah I don’t get why he’s trotting this out as a bad thing for consumers. I’ve often looked at the current TV Guide Listing thing these companies have and though “Man this would be so much better and easier if I could just search for something.”

It’s ridiculous how bassackwards these companies are and will fight rabidly over anything that might be pro-consumer. Fuck these guys.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Because Google is the Internet is the Pirate Bay is Megaupload is Aaron Schwartz is Julian Assange something something mumbo jumbo chicken gumbo.

If Google put out a statement saying that breathing air is good for you he’d probably go around trying to strangle people from breathing encrypted air into their lungs. (NSA-brand surveillance air, on the other hand…)

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Along those lines I’ve heard good things about Playstation Vue, which seems to do with traditional TV channels what these STBs would. A sort of Netflix for broadcast TV with some PVR functionality. It seems to be improving, too.
So there already exist services that do this, that work on “boxes” not rented by the cable companies.

Anonymous Coward says:

What the cable companies fear is YouTube delivered to the TV through the same box and in direct competition to their programming. YouTube offers better content to the selective viewer than most of the cable channels, with the advantage that the can be watched as and when a person wants to, and paused whenever a drink is desired, rather than waiting for an advertising break.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“What the cable companies fear is YouTube delivered to the TV through the same box”

Which makes no sense, because not only can it already be delivered to the same TV via a connected PC, games console, Roku, Apple TV, Amazon Fire, etc., but many TVs have the app built in without needing a box in the first place. I don’t think having to reach for a different remote control is what’s stopping customers from using something else.

I think their real fear is that Google have built a massively successful business largely by delivering what people actually want, while the cable companies have held on by restricting what their customers can access – including competition. It’s not hard to understand why they’re so desperate to not have the competition.

JD says:

CableCo ghost stories

CableCo: “And in this hellish landscape the FCC is trying to foist upon you, YOUR LISTINGS WILL BE ON GOOGLE SEARCH, AND YOUR HARDWARE AND UX WILL BE CREATED BY APPLE!!”

Consumer: “Oh …. oh god ….”

CableCo: “I know, right?”

Consumer: “I never thought this day would come…”

CableCo: “But with some luck it doesn’t ha..”


CableCo: “….”

Anonymous Coward says:

And this is a key reason why cable/broadband companies are so hated

True search based TV where money is made via advertising based off of the data revealed in the searches instead of predatory subscription fees is a great innovative idea. See? The cable companies CAN conceive of innovative ideas that the public would want. Why then do they seem to be too stupid to implement them?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: And this is a key reason why cable/broadband companies are so hated

As for their second claim about Google offering free services only to start charging for them later: I must have missed my monthly bill for Google search, maps, gmail, etc. while I certainly have noticed the fact that the once standard, unlimited broadband packages are increasingly being done away with and replaced with packages that have data caps. Pot meet kettle and all that.

Ninja (profile) says:

Re: Re: And this is a key reason why cable/broadband companies are so hated

I actually think that their services are valuable enough to be paid (minus the goddamn tracking and advertising obviously). On the other hand, I ditched cable for over 3 years already even though the prices actually fell here. And no amount of caps will make me go back to paying for that crap.

Anonymous Coward says:

Every time it seems I hear out of these cable companies and PPV providers, anything that threatens to upset their little play pen is Armageddon arriving. I like so many others am simply tired of the BS.

I hear stories near every day in one form or another of PPV providers that charge up to a couple of hundred bucks a month to some families. I got news for them, tv is not worth that to me.

I’m beginning to think that Google might be the best thing since sliced bread when it comes to upsetting the apple cart and I am ready to see it done. That we could get so lucky that these entrenched cablecos might actually have to face real competition for a change is heartening.

Eric says:

Just make a better product

The funny part about all of this is the cable companies are practically admitting they can’t make a better product than google or others, even though they’ve had years and years of time to perfect this type of offering. They act as if other companies offering a competing product means they can’t offer their own cable box!

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: "Your shills only considered whether they could say something, and didn't bother to ask if they should..."

Yeah, they trot out all these ‘horrible things’ that might happen if the Big Bad Google gets into the set top boxes market, and I imagine a good many people reading are wondering just why these things are supposed to be bad. The ability to look for what you want instead of having to wade through a mess of a ‘tv listings’ screen? That certainly sounds like an improvement to me, and yet they’re acting like it would be the end of the world.

ECA (profile) says:

pickles AND cucumbers..


Anyone here understand the COSTS in protecting your Cable Box??
Protect it from hacking, letting people Watch, what EVER THEY WANTED.. It is your RIGHT to go out and BUY a cable box..and you can. If you wish to spend $300-1000. THEN the cable corp changes the BOX..Then look up Cable Cards..There is tech to use a BASIC descrambler and all it requires is a card..
There is a Bunch of TECH in that box..all of it designed to be remote accessed, and restrict channels..
This is the SAME as the Console WARS. WHO can create and Insert games on a CONSOLE…ONLY the Creator. And ONLY what is sold to them to distribute to customers.
HOW much to LOCK down a system, so NO ONE can play anything except what ONLY YOU can sell them, and PRICES you set??

OLD system..for SOFTWARE..

Someone makes a game.
Game gets bought out or licensed to Distributor OR the company gets bought up..
Then Marketing takes over, and Adverts are sent out and sample programs to the Mags..Art work, and a Fancy BOX..
Boxes are sent ALL OVER the country to store distribution, then SENT to stores..in limited quantities, as there ISNT much room for all the programs from anyone who makes games..
All this adds up to a $50-70 game..and the profit, is LESS THAN $5..

NEW system..

Independent developer, wishes to make program..
Makes web site..
SELLS game, and has free access to sample game..
(old system profit was $5)
New system is STILL about $5, but then you have small payments and incentives in game to BUY MORE…
Profits? Undetermined..
If its a good game, it makes MONEY…If its CRAP..it DIES FAST..(old system, you BUY IT, YOU OPEN BOX, YOU CANT RETURN IT)

Whats the problem with CABLE/SAT TV??
You watch 20 of them, and are paying for 200 PLUS channels..
You dont watch sports, religion, News, Sales…Vut you are paying for it.
You have 200 channels, CANT record any of it(until recently on SOME SYSTEMS) and cant WATCH the shows you prefer..
HOW many people know HOW to setup fiber/toslink Audio cable?? WHO has a STEREO that will use it..(the correct one, as there are 2 formats)
AND then comes LOCAL CHANNELS…Large cities should have 50+ channels being broadcast around the area(I get 22 out in the farming areas) and you STILL cant get 1/2 of them..

I.T. Guy says:

I love this load of bullshit:
“For example, Google’s image search engine displays high-resolution and large-format images from third-party sites, thereby promoting piracy.”
Ha ha ha who was the moron that wrote this? It only has op-ed contributor, and a credit for the picture. I wouldn’t want my name associated with such garbage either.

Last sentence, third paragraph:
(Disclosure: I represent companies opposed to Google on other issues in the United States and Europe.)
No shit Sherlock. One can tell from your wild accusations and flat out lies.

Wendy Cockcroft (user link) says:

Re: Re:

Given the hammering the anti-Google (read: anti-internet freedom) crowd have been getting in the comments everywhere it’s possible to comment on the drivel they write, it’s not surprising this twerp is wearing a metaphorical paper bag over the head.

It’s a search engine with an image search function doing its damn job. Every other search engine does this. My personal rule of thumb: the wilder the accusation, the more likely it is to be a lie.

Steerpike says:

Maybe he has a problem with Google due to some of his other clientele:

“As part of his tech and media practice, Jonathan represents some of the world’s most notable industry participants, including: Microsoft, News Corp, Yelp, Getty Images, Roku, Spotify, Time Inc., AppNexus, and others. In addition, Jonathan advises companies regarding the use of technology and data in traditional industries including healthcare, energy, commodities, retail, and financial services.”


Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...