As The FCC Guts Net Neutrality, Comcast Again Falsely Claims You Have Nothing To Worry About
from the you're-not-helping dept
As the Trump administration guts oversight of some of the least liked and least competitive companies in America in one of the most brazen examples of crony capitalism in tech policy history, ISPs like Verizon and Comcast seem intent on insisting that none of this is actually happening. Verizon, you’ll recall, went so far as to publish a comical video in which the company used a fake journalist to try and construct an alternate timeline; one in which Verizon hasn’t been trying to undermine net neutrality and a healthy, competitive internet for the last fifteen years:
Comcast lobbyists and PR reps have also been having grand old time pretending that this blatant example of regulatory capture isn’t real, and that the complete dismantling of telecom sector oversight won’t have a decidedly-foul impact on already frustrated end users and the internet. The company has penned blog post after blog post stating that sure, the FCC may be gutting already flimsy oversight of one of the least competitive sectors in America, but users shouldn’t worry because the company’s tireless love of consumers will somehow carry the day:
With the FCC formally confirming its plan to kill existing net neutrality protections December 15, Comcast is back again insisting that you have absolutely nothing to worry about. In a new blog post,
top Comcast lobbyist “Chief Diversity Officer” David Cohen once again claims that net neutrality harmed industry investment (independent analysis and executive statements have repeatedly shown this to be a lie), that Comcast will be able to self-regulate in the absence of real oversight, and that gutting the Title II foundation underpinning the agency’s rules just isn’t that big of a deal:
“As we have said previously, this proposal is not the end of net neutrality rules. With the FCC transparency requirement and the restoration of the FTC?s role in overseeing information services, the agencies together will have the authority to take action against any ISP which does not make its open Internet practices clearly known to consumers, and if needed enforce against any anti-competitive or deceptive practices. Comcast has already made net neutrality promises to our customers, and we will continue to follow those standards, regardless of the regulations in place.”
That’s the same, debunked bullshit Cohen has been peddling for years. While the FCC hasn’t released its full rule-killing order as of this writing (it foolishly thought it could hide it behind the Thanksgiving holiday), folks I’ve spoken to who’ve seen the order say the remaining transparency requirements on ISPs are so loophole-filled as to be utterly useless. As such, Comcast is stating it will adhere to them happily — since there won’t be much of anything to actually adhere to. Yes, that’s really impressive, David.
Meanwhile, reversing the classification of ISPs as common carriers under Title II of the Communications Act absolutely destroys the rules. You’ll recall that when the FCC tried to impose rather flimsy net neutrality rules in 2010, the courts shot down that effort — making it clear that for real net neutrality, you needed to return ISPs to their 2002-era classification as “telecommunications services.” So that’s what it did in 2015. Reverse that classification (again), and you’ve eroded the FCC’s authority to police bad behavior by a sector with a rich history of anti-competitive behavior and predatory pricing.
As we’ve noted previously, the broadband industry’s lobbying plan is to
pay lobby the government to dismantle the FCC’s ability to protect consumers, then shovel all remaining oversight to an FTC that’s ill-equipped to handle it. The FTC lacks the ability to craft new rules as needed, and is so under-funded and over-extended that policing ISP behavior will fall through the cracks. That’s something former FCC boss Tom Wheeler explained earlier this year:
“In the Trump administration, people are talking about stripping regulatory power from the FCC, and essentially taking the agency apart (including moving jurisdiction over internet access to the Federal Trade Commission [FTC]). ?Modernizing? the FCC is the lingo being used. What?s your thought about that?
It?s a fraud. The FTC doesn?t have rule-making authority. They?ve got enforcement authority and their enforcement authority is whether or not something is unfair or deceptive. And the FTC has to worry about everything from computer chips to bleach labeling. Of course, carriers want [telecom issues] to get lost in that morass. This was the strategy all along.
So it doesn?t surprise me that the Trump transition team???who were with the American Enterprise Institute and basically longtime supporters of this concept???comes in and says, ?Oh, we oughta do away with this.? It makes no sense to get rid of an expert agency and to throw these issues to an agency with no rule-making power that has to compete with everything else that?s going on in the economy, and can only deal with unfair or deceptive practices.
And that’s not the end of it. AT&T is currently embroiled in a case against the FTC that could erode the FTC’s authority even further. AT&T was sued by the FTC after it lied to consumers about throttling their connections in the hopes of driving them to more expensive plans. If AT&T wins that fight, any company with a common carrier component (which extends to everything from parts of Google’s business to oil pipelines) could dodge FTC accountability. The FTC warned last year that should this come to pass, companies could buy unrelated common carrier subsidiaries just to dodge regulatory oversight.
So again, the goal here isn’t just for “more reasonable regulatory oversight” or “slightly less regulatory oversight,” the goal here is almost zero oversight of one of the most predatory and anti-competitive legacy business sectors in America. Any claim to the contrary is utterly disingenuous. And if you believe that letting Comcast run amok with neither competitive pressure nor regulatory oversight ends well for anyone not financially benefiting from it, you’ve fallen down a very deep, dark rabbit hole and should take a long hard look at history.