Cable's Top Lobbyist Again Calls For Hyper Regulation Of Silicon Valley

from the Google-is-the-real-villain dept

For years telecom monopolies have downplayed the lack of competition in the broadband sector, and the chain reaction of problems this creates for everybody (from privacy infractions to net neutrality violations). At the same time, large ISP lobbyists (and the regulators, politicians and policy flacks paid to love them) have insisted that it’s Silicon Valley companies the public really need to worry about. As a result, ISPs like Comcast and AT&T routinely insist that we need new regulations governing companies like Google and Facebook, but entrenched natural monopolies should be allowed to do pretty much whatever they’d like.

This of course requires you ignore a few things. One, that the lack of competition in broadband makes the two sectors an apples to oranges comparison. Customers frustrated by Facebook’s bad behavior can vote with their wallets, something most Comcast customers can’t do. You’re also supposed to ignore the fact that large ISPs are simply trying to saddle Google and Facebook with additional regulation because they’re increasingly trying to challenge them for advertising revenue in the video and media space.

This underlying narrative is constant, whether it’s FCC boss Ajit Pai weirdly demonizing Netflix, to telecom-industry funded smear campaigns that try to suggest Google is a nasty freeloader that doesn’t pay for bandwidth. Speaking at a sector trade show in Ireland this week, former FCC boss turned top cable lobbyist Michael Powell dusted off this rhetoric and turned up the volume. He began by insisting the quest for a healthy and open internet was “irrelevant” because the real villains are Silicon Valley companies hungrily gobbling up “mindshare”:

“Michael Powell, president of NCTA-The Internet & Television Association, told the crowd at a Cable Congress Dublin event in Ireland Tuesday (March 6) that the network neutrality debate sucks up money, resources and “mindshare,” but is increasingly an irrelevant discussion.

What isn’t irrelevant, he suggested, is for governments in the U.S. and abroad to start looking at tech companies/edge providers like Facebook, their size and power, and the harm they can do to mental health by keeping consumers chasing the dopamine rush of “likes” and “streaks” as a way to glue them to devices.

Right. So again, notice how some of the most despised and least competitive companies in America aren’t a problem and should be free from regulation, but Facebook and Google (which again, consumers can choose not to use) require vast expansions in regulatory oversight. Powell, whose tenure at the FCC consisted of comically denying any competition issues whatsoever, repeatedly called out Apple, Facebook and Google as the worst sort of villains; villainy that somehow, magically, makes the whole net neutrality conversation moot:

“They have the size, power and influence of a nation state. Antitrust policy has barely begun to address how to check this power to protect consumers and healthy competition.”…He called the net neutrality debate “mindless trench warfare” and said that, as in the First World War, Democratic and activist cries that the battle for an open internet was a war to end all wars would prove wrong.

“Net neutrality policy does not remotely address the issues companies and consumers are facing today and likely will face in the future,” Powell said. “Put simply, net neutrality is deeply rooted in engineering, consumer expectations, corporate business models and the norms of internet activity. It is firmly entrenched, and I don?t believe the open internet experience will change, whatever the outcome of the current debate.”

So one, Comcast owns NBC and is considering a $31 billion acquisition of European satellite TV provider Sky, so it’s not clear Powell’s the guy to turn to when talking about media consolidation worries. Two, the idea that the “open internet experience” won’t change if ISPs are successful in their current bid to gut FTC, FCC and state authority over natural monopolies is simply comical. History is filled with endless examples of how a lack of competition or reasonable regulatory oversight of natural monopolies results in higher prices and worse service. In telecom this lack of competition is already profound, routinely exemplified by everything from privacy violations to net neutrality infractions.

That’s not to say that companies like Facebook and Google don’t have their own universe of issues. Both were totally absent from the latest net neutrality fight as they slowly but surely shift from innovation and disruption to turf protection. And there’s countless conversations to be had regarding their privacy practices and the country’s ugly little disinformation problem.

But despised monopolists like Comcast calling for hyper-regulation of companies they’re trying to compete with is pretty damn hard to take seriously. When Powell wasn’t busy trying to insist that companies like Facebook were to blame for the nation’s mental health issues, he was was hypocritically giving the audience lessons on anti-competitive behavior and a respect for consumer privacy:

“Our governmental authorities need to get a handle on what kind of market power and harm flow from companies that have an unassailable hold on large pools of big data, which serve as barriers to entry, allowing them to dominate industries throughout the economy,” he said. “For years, big tech companies have been extinguishing competitive threats by buying or crushing promising new technologies just as they were emerging,” he said. “They dominate their core business, and rarely have to foreclose competition by buying their peers. “Competition policy must scrutinize more rigorously deals that allow dominant platforms to kill competitive technologies in the cradle,” he added.

If you’ve watched the companies Powell represents do business, that’s pretty funny. As is Powell’s claim that Silicon Valley giants have too much influence over government, a claim made just a few months after revolving door regulators sold out the public on net neutrality:

“We have reached a point where governments can no longer coddle and cater to tech companies,” he said. “They have become too large, too influential and too indispensable to live above regulatory scrutiny. As a start, we need to reject the ‘do no evil’ fairytale.” These companies must be brought back down to earth and regulators must recognize them for what they are: profit-maximizing corporations that have a strong incentive and ability to pursue their own self-interest over the interests of society and consumers.”

Oh no! You mean just like Comcast, and Charter Spectrum? In the heads of many telecom executives, the quest for net neutrality (despite having massive support from the public) was all one mean cabal by Google designed to ruin their good time. But despite this breathless concern for consumer and market welfare, this hysteria serves only one real purpose: to saddle companies Comcast wants to challenge for advertising “mindshare” with numerous additional regulations, while leaving entrenched telecom monopolies free to run amok.

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Companies: at&t, comcast, facebook, google, ncta

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Comments on “Cable's Top Lobbyist Again Calls For Hyper Regulation Of Silicon Valley”

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PaulT (profile) says:

“tart looking at tech companies/edge providers like Facebook, their size and power, and the harm they can do to mental health by keeping consumers chasing the dopamine rush of “likes” and “streaks” as a way to glue them to devices”

Weird, I use Facebook largely to communicate easier with friends and family and keep in touch with local events, not really giving a crap how many people like my posts when I make them. In the last week, I’ve used it to organise last minute meetups in the face of snowstorms and videocalls with people I’ve not seen for a while while travelling, not anything that might endanger one’s mental health.

Huh, it’s almost as if he’s exaggerating and lying to deflect attention away from the people who enable access to these sites.

“”Competition policy must scrutinize more rigorously deals that allow dominant platforms to kill competitive technologies in the cradle”

Indeed. For example – new services that might challenge those offered by the ISPs and those who pay them for preferential access, but might be killed due top the lack of protection from the ISPs engaging in unfair practices.

“We have reached a point where governments can no longer coddle and cater to tech companies”

I have to ask – while there does tend to be some distinction made in therms of the marketplace that accountants place them in, how in the hell are ISPs *not* tech companies? I mean, sure, they’re in the telecommunications sector for investment purposes, but everything they do is tech.

Anonymous Coward says:

Regulate Silicon Valley

I firmly agree that Silicon value should be regulated.

Every time anyone there spouts out how great socialism, a form of slavery in a feudalistic society, is a large cork needs to be inserted both of their mouths, both the upper and lower. This will have the global effects of elimination much of their self generated stinking global warming gas, lead to an increase in domestic tranquility, and increase world prosperity.

Anonymous Coward says:

Too many people on both sides are trying to turn this into an either/or thing to distract from themselves. Both Silicon Valley *and* the Cable industry need to be regulated, as both have proven that they will continue to abuse users for profit in the absence of legal ramifications.

Net neutrality is important, but so is privacy.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Adding to that, it’s sad that even on a site called “techdirt”, the propaganda of one side of this has been so thoroughly effective that the idea of regulating the activities of $500B+ corporations is now frowned upon or considered controversial.

I’m glad that the other side hasn’t had quite as much luck with their propaganda, otherwise we’d be really getting fucked from both ends.

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Adding to that, it’s sad that even on a site called "techdirt", the propaganda of one side of this has been so thoroughly effective that the idea of regulating the activities of $500B+ corporations is now frowned upon or considered controversial.

It’s not that we frown upon it specifically. The problem is that any regulations proposed so far will do so much more damage. Every proposed regulation we’ve seen will do two things: (1) lock in Facebook and Google, since they can deal with the regulations and smaller companies can’t and (2) make life worse for the end users.

That’s our concern. If you can present a reasonable regulation for big internet companies, I’m all ears. But to do so you’d need to lay out what the problem is and what the regulatory solution is… and make sure you have answers when we raise the potential consequences.

So, yeah, we’re generally against all kinds of regulation here, but that’s because most regulation does more harm than good — but we explained WHY in very specific terms, regulation of broadband made sense, even if we’re skeptical in general. But we’ve yet to see a convincing set of regulations for internet companies. If you have some, please share.

cattress (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Thank you for some sanity!
From what I can tell, there is a huge disconnect in understanding how a free market determines winners and losers versus how a government determines winners and losers. Google, Facebook, or Twitter are winners because people like their services the most. And none of them has exclusive service power, you can use these platforms as much or as little as you want, as well as a huge variety of competing platforms or alternative search engines. Facebook didn’t lobby for regulations to take down MySpace, people just liked the FB platform more. With all of the government required and urged regulations, another platform not under the same scrutiny could become the new winner. A new player doesn’t need a trove of personal data that Powell claims is a barrier to entry, all they need is a great idea and good execution. The free market allows for choice which works better than top-down one size fits all regulations.
Now if we don’t get NN done right, ISPs could try to snatch up the power to pick winners and losers (they themselves would inevitably be the winners) by extracting fees from the big edge providers, that new edge providers could never afford. Or they could create their own search engines and social media that are given exclusive fast lanes while slowing down the market favorites. Inconvenience would push consumers to the ISP products, which would suck up ad dollars and get the data they are already siphoning from the captured market. Consumers that don’t like their ISP in most places have no alternatives, I know I don’t.
And the bullshit about dopamine rush of “likes”, internet addiction or supposed harms to my mental health are nothing more than nanny-state beliefs that people are utterly incapable of self moderation and plainly too stupid to function without some kind of government protecting us from ourselves. The government can’t do anything the people have asked effectively or efficiently, so I see no reason to allow them to take over that which is my personal responsibility.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

That was kind of my point. People on both sides of this are trying to make it seem like they are.

“We must regulate the tech industry, but cable companies should be able to continue operating as they have been”

“We must regulate the cable industry, but tech industry regulation is bad”

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Hopefully you’ve read Mike’s response by now and realised two things – first the opinions that you ascribed to Mike were incorrect. The second is that you need to stop thinking in binary terms. Like politics in general, there’s not “two sides”. It’s quite possible to think that both ISPs and platforms need to be regulated, just in very different ways. The only people saying that only one of these needs regulation are people like the lobbyist quoted in the article, whose entire statement is “don’t regulate us, look over there!”. If you’re fooled by that, it’s not the fault of sites like this.

Listen to what people actually say, and stop trying to assign them to “teams”. Only then will you understand the nuance of what’s really being said.

Anonymous Coward says:

"chasing the dopamine rush "

Ahh, so then Google and Facebook should be regulated as dangerous "narcotics". Yeah, I see how that works. And then AT&T, Comcast, et al. could lobby for yet more tax dollars to help them fight this new "drug war" on behalf of the government. For our own good, of course. What’s not to like?

ECA (profile) says:

Part of this is correct..

How about the idea that the Monopolies DONT want to compete with the OTHERS, and make things CHEAPER, then the competition?
Advertising ISNT real hard..
Installing the SAME services ISNT that hard..

MOSt of this can be ‘HACKED’ into to see how it is done..
But WHY do it? Lets SHOOT our major competitor in the foot, and slow them down with Gov. PAPERWORK/REGULATIONS/… We dont need to do anything. Just SIT and watch the fun..

then we make deals with the MPAA/RIAA, as well as others to make the SAME service thats already BEEN CREATED.. then CHARGE MORE..

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Part of this is correct..

It’s a shame, really. Sometimes he writes some good points, but what he writes is usually so convoluted and hard to read I either ignore him or give up after a paragraph on most of his posts.

I’ve tried telling him to write like a normal human being, but he refers writing it so that people don’t bother reading, for some reason.

Anonymous Coward says:

Dear ISP,

Your only job is to provide me the bandwidth I pay for every month ( please provide what I’m actually paying for and not “up to ###” ). You don’t get to decide what I watch or how much of my bandwidth I dedicate to videos, lolcats or looking up things on obscure web sites or how it gets prioritized.
So please STFU and do what you’re paid to do.

Thank you very much


Sok Puppette (profile) says:

Customers frustrated by Facebook’s bad behavior can vote with their wallets, something most Comcast customers can’t do.

Most Comcast customers can go to the other member of the local duopoly. Pretty much ANY Comcast customer can go buy their own right of way and run their own cable to a NAP.

That’s just about as practical as most Facebook users abandoning Facebook.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“That’s just about as practical as most Facebook users abandoning Facebook.”

Incorrect. Facebook have a lot of competitors and it’s trivial to use them instead of, or even at the same time as, Facebook. It’s hugely practical to switch. It takes zero practical effort to move, especially when other sites attract other the people you want to socialise with, and the cost is virtually zero.

Whether or not you personally think they will exercise that practical choice is a completely different issue. Don’t confuse or lie about it just because you think most people won’t bother making the choice. In actual fact, most regular social media users in fact use multiple sites as it is, and new ones spring up all the time.

It’s an utterly different thing to something like switching ISP, which can take great practical effort and expense, even if they do realistically have a choice in the first place.

The Wanderer (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

If the people with whom the person wants to interact are not on any of the competitors, but are on Facebook, then abandoning Facebook in favor of one of those competitors is not practical.

I would not be at all surprised if that description fits the situation that “most Facebook users” are in.

The more meaningful difference, IMO, is that it is much more practical to “go without” what Facebook and its competitors provide (convenient interaction with the people who do use that site) than with what Comcast and its competitors if any provide (usefully-fast connection to the Internet).

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

In my experience, most people who use Facebook regularly also use competing social networks. I’m actually not sure I know anyone who doesn’t have accounts on at least 2.

Either way, the effort taken to switch is trivial if who you wish to communicate is also on a different network. Even if it is true that it’s difficult to get people to switch, there’s a huge difference between “there’s a huge number of competitors nobody I know wants to use” and “there are no competitors”, so the attempt at comparison is trite at best.

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