Broadband Industry Aims To Use Facebook Fracas To Saddle Silicon Valley With Crappy New Laws

from the we-own-the-pen dept

For years now, the nation’s broadband industry has clung to one, consistent message: anti-competitive giants like Comcast are innocent, ultra-innovative daisies, and Silicon Valley companies are a terrible, terrible menace. From Ajit Pai’s bizarre attacks on Netflix to an endless wave of ISP-payrolled consultants falsely accusing Google of stealing bandwidth, major ISPs have long made it clear they see Silicon Valley not as a collaborator, but as a mortal enemy. Given ISPs routinely try to use their last-mile monopolies to harm disruptive new services with arbitrary barriers and higher, extortion-esque costs, the feeling is generally mutual.

As companies like Comcast NBC Universal and AT&T (and soon Time Warner) grow and push into the internet ad industry, the ISP lobbying message has been consistent: more regulation for Silicon Valley, and virtually no regulation for the broadband industry. Given many of these ISPs are growing natural monopolies, the rules governing them have been (and should be) notably different, and sometimes stronger. After all, however bad Facebook is, you can choose not to use them, whereas if you’re like more than half of America, Comcast is your only option if you’re looking for real broadband.

Needless to say, the entire (justified) Facebook and Cambridge Analytica fracas has given ISP lobbyists a wonderful new opportunity to push for bad legislation they’ll likely be writing. Former FCC boss turned top cable lobbyist Mike Powell has been beating the “regulate Silicon Valley” drumbeat for several weeks now, blaming rising social media “mindshare” for all manner of evils. And I’ve noticed the arrival of several new astroturf groups calling for regulation of Facebook and Google that are tied to co-opted “minority” organizations with a history of helping AT&T covertly lobby.

With Zuckerberg headed to a hearing this week, the broadband industry has ramped up its tap dance. This blog post by USTelecom, an AT&T backed lobbying organization, proclaims that we should look to the same industry that gave us zombie cookies for examples of exemplary behavior moving forward:

“And, in the search for privacy best practices, Congress need look no further than America?s broadband providers. For over twenty years, internet service providers (ISPs) have protected their consumers? data with strong pro-consumer policies. ISPs know the success of any digital business depends on earning their customers? trust on privacy.”

From charging users more for privacy to using credit data to provide customers even worse customer service, the broadband industry has been a privacy circus for decades, making this USTelecom’s apparent attempt at comedy.

Charter CEO Tom Rutledge this week also joined the festivities by penning a new blog entry proclaiming that Charter really, really wants a new, comprehensive privacy law:

“Tomorrow, Congress will begin important hearings to examine who is collecting what, how that data is shared and sold, and how best to protect and secure personal data when much of our lives are increasingly taking place online. As a company with over 95,000 employees that has the privilege of providing Internet service to 22.5 million homes across 41 states, we at Charter have an important stake in this conversation.”

Keep in mind, Charter was one of several major ISPs that lobbied the GOP and Trump administration to kill modest broadband consumer privacy protections before they could take effect last year. Those rules, crafted after endless examples of bad ISP behavior, simply would have required that ISPs clearly disclose what data is being collected and sold. They also would have required that ISPs provide working opt-out tools, and (the biggest reason ISPs opposed the rules) they would have required that consumers opt in to the sharing of more sensitive data.

Yet mysteriously here is Charter, now calling for the creation of new privacy regulations:

“Charter believes individuals deserve to know that no matter where they go online or how they interact with online services, they will have the same protections. Different policies leading to inconsistent protections sow confusion and erode consumer confidence in their interactions online, threatening the Internet?s future as an engine of economic growth. And as an Internet Service Provider, that?s bad for business. So we are urging Congress to pass a uniform law that provides greater privacy and data security protections and applies the same standard to everybody in the Internet ecosystem, including us.”

Again, Charter knows it has enough political power right now under the Trump administration and GOP that it will likely be one of the companies that gets to write whatever new privacy legislation gets proposed. And given Charter and Comcast’s history, you can be pretty damn sure their version of a “uniform law” likely includes massive loopholes for ISPs, while hamstringing many of the companies large ISPs plan to compete with in the video ad wars to come.

Meanwhile, the rhetoric about “applying the same standards” to everybody in the chain again hopes to confuse folks that don’t understand that natural monopolies may need tougher consumer protections (which is what net neutrality was all about). It’s much like the calls on some fronts for things like “search neutrality” by people that usually have no earthly understanding of what net neutrality’s actually about: protecting consumers from last mile monopoly harms.

As we’ve been noting, the broadband industry has been attempting to neuter FCC authority over ISPs, then shovel any remaining authority to an FTC that’s ill-equipped to handle it. Applauding the FTC as the exclusive handler of telecom privacy concerns actually weakens oversight of telecom monopolies, (especially given AT&T is trying to gut all FTC oversight over ISPs entirely).

Of course Google and Facebook are not innocent victims here either, and they don’t want tough, meaningful privacy protections any more than the telecom industry does.

In fact, AT&T, Comcast, Verizon and Charter have recenty put aside some of their animosity to work hand in hand with Google and Facebook to scuttle meaningful privacy rules in California. This entire call for “privacy legislation” may serve multiple functions for ISPs: put a bullet in any efforts to restore tougher and more meaningful FCC authority over ISPs, while working with Facebook and Google on privacy legislation that simply doesn’t do much, but does pre-empt the possibility for tougher federal or state protections. Knowing ISPs well, they’ll also try to sneak in language that harms their newfound “allies” at the last second.

Giving how corrupt this current Congress is, there’s a universe of ways this well-intentioned effort for new meaningful privacy guidelines could go south with genuine consumer privacy being a distant afterthought. There’s certainly a case to be made for tough new privacy protections in the wake of IOT dysfunction and the Cambridge Analytica scandal. But it should probably go without saying that we don’t want Comcast lawyers (or Facebook and Google lobbyists) writing them.

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Companies: cambridge analytica, facebook

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Comments on “Broadband Industry Aims To Use Facebook Fracas To Saddle Silicon Valley With Crappy New Laws”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: New Master, same as the old master

It’s not OUR fault that the President wiped out all ISP level privacy protection, I mean it basically REQUIRES us to sell all your info to every vendor, foreign agent, and politician we can (I mean that’s what the law said, right?)

Or did we not re-read that one? I know what it was supposed to say when we sent it to the politicians, and they are too stupid to make any significant improvements or changes (most are incapable of comprehending basic English, but that’s beside the point). The law we wrote would require us to sell all your info to every tom, dick,and harry out there who might have any interest in using it however they may see fit.

Now believe us when we say YOUR PRIVACY IS IMPORTANT TO US, (as we are the only ones who should be able to exploit your info, not those horrible social media companies)…

So a vote for us is a vote for big broadband…

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Bile Bising from the latest ZOMBIE sighting: BeldansFire!

All of 6 comments since May 21st, 2013! Only about ten lines, though.

Isn’t it AMAZING that persons keep track of account name and password for FIVE years to make SIX comments? Huh, isn’t it? Just recalling that have an account here is remarkable feat when evidently not very interested for either frequency or depth.

BTW: IF — HUGE IF — IF any of these one-comment-per-years (besides the SIX-year-gappers) are real persons, they can’t ALL have recalled passwords! So I bet that Techdirt’s password recovery procedure is not much more complex than: “Lost your password? — Just use our admin backdoor: ‘abc123’.”

And NOT ONE of them ever mentions recovering password, remarks are returning, or gee how the site has changed! (Esp not the very obvious gone downhill!) It’s INhuman, I tells ya.

And NOT ONE of the fanboys ever remarks on it being odd, glad to see you back, or anything a human would do!


Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Bile Bising from the latest ZOMBIE sighting: BeldansFire!

Computers come with these things called files, and they can keep information safe and available for years and years.

It’s a good TRY “AC”, and partly believable for this one, but doesn’t at all explain how persons suddenly recall the site after months or years (up to SEVEN!) and want to comment here once, then disappear again.

I just note that “BeldanesFire” doesn’t answer.

YOU, “AC”, could be one of those doing the astro-turf, else why do you feel a need to explain and protect the site? — Do you know that the “account” isn’t going to answer? HMM?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Bile Bising from the latest ZOMBIE sighting: BeldansFire!

This coming from the jackass who uses three TOR IP addresses to profess his sexual arousal of corporate copyright law? That’s a laugh. Watch out, blue; according to your boyfriend MyNameHere that’s a CFAA offense that’s as bad as hacking.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

BTW: IF — HUGE IF — IF any of these one-comment-per-years (besides the SIX-year-gappers) are real persons, they can’t ALL have recalled passwords! So I bet that Techdirt’s password recovery procedure is not much more complex than: "Lost your password? — Just use our admin backdoor: ‘abc123’."


I see Blue is still good for a chuckle now and then.

Techdirt’s password recovery is the same as pretty much anywhere on the internet. You click on "Forgot your username?" or "Need to reset your password?" enter the email address you signed up with and they magically send the info associated with that address.

I have forgotten my password many times here because it’s saved in my browser and have had to reset it. None of this is rocket surgery.

Once again, this isn’t the conspiracy you think it is, Blue.

Anonymous Coward says:

Choose not to use

After all, however bad Facebook is, you can choose not to use them, whereas if you’re like more than half of America, Comcast is your only option if you’re looking for real broadband.

I don’t see the distinction. You can choose not to have "real" broadband. There’s still mobile internet, satellite, libraries, even dialup. So sure, you can go to Myspace or something instead of Facebook; but if everyone else is on Facebook, that’s a substitute in the same way dialup is a substitute for DSL.

Anonymous Coward says:

Facebook demonstrates how all companies in the business of data collection and monetization have run wild. Google. Twitter. Microsoft. Netflix (yes, Netflix, take a close look at their data collection and analytics programs. They are a leader in machine learning based insights these days).

And broadband. Verizon and Comcast have gleefully run headline into the data collection space for those oh-so-lucrative contracts to sell to third parties for marketing, law enforcement, political, or intelligence uses.

The broadband industry will need its turn in the barrel along with Facebook by the end of this process.

I have strong suspicion that the rot central to all of this over-reach is going to land us right back in discussion of the Patriot Act. In return for providing all sorts of data collection to facilitate the Patriot Act, blind eye was turned toward the most egregious monetization of data practices. End that deal.

We have defined rights inherent to the individual central to the values of the nation. No net neutrality is needed. No internet bill of rights. We already have defined rights. Set precedent that ‘in the cybertubes’ does not somehow modify those inherent rights. Reaffirm those existing rights must also be recognized online. Brings this non-sense full stop.

Tom Johnson says:

Tech Troubles

You folks in tech, especially the big guys, have brought difficulties upon yourselves. There are standards for everything and the technical standards have done well.
The problem is with the moral standards. There tech has not done so well. There is a history to this. Microsoft was almost broken up several decades ago. Competing is OK. Competition is OK. But, there are lines that have been crossed and it is no ones fault but yours. You will now be lucky if you don’t become regulated by the Feds, the states, the EU.

Johnson Rice (user link) says:

This author has 'no earthly idea' what a natural monopoly is.

Local government created monopolies are in no way NATURAL.

Local governments charging astronomical licensing fees is not a ‘natural monopoly’.

This is no more a natural monopoly than this author consistently linking to his own articles creates a ‘natural monopoly’ on inaccurate information.

Shilling for FCC to have more power… because THAT didn’t CREATE ‘natural’ monopolies like Clear Channel. GTFOH

The Wanderer (profile) says:

Re: This author has 'no earthly idea' what a natural monopoly is.

Where do you get the idea that the author (of the article, I’m presuming, so Karl Bode) thinks that either of those things is a "natural monopoly"?

Re your last line: a natural monopoly cannot be created, it can only be brought from irrelevance into relevance (by the advent of new technology that makes a previously-irrelevant bottleneck valuable), worked around (while it’s relevant), or made obsolete (by the advent of new technology which renders the previous bottleneck irrelevant).

If it was created, it’s not a natural monopoly.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: This author has 'no earthly idea' what a natural monopoly is.

Anything that requires wires/fiber or pipes to form a network covering a significant area is something where a monopoly will naturally arise. The existence of phone and cable networks as parallel networks arose because the phone and the original cable networks used very different technologies and so were not interchangeable. Fiber can replace both and so the natural tendency is for the two industries to merge, leading to a single service provider in any area.

The only sensible way of dealing with that is by regulation, and in most of Europe, the infrastructure providers are regulated, and forced to open their networks to competition at the higher level. That is why were I live, I have a single ISDN/Phone line provider, and a choice of ISPs. Consequently I have a reasonable priced unlimited broadband connection, where unlimited is unqualified. No you are making excessive use of your unlimited capacity and so we will start throttling.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Please clean up the straw after you're done

If you’re going to claim someone else is getting the terminology wrong it helps if you do even the tiniest bit of research to make sure that you are getting it correct.

The term ‘natural monopoly‘ has nothing to do with government, and everything to do with barriers to entry that result in the first in the market having a massive advantage such that others struggle to enter and/or remain in the market to provide competition without regulations in place.

It’s hard to take serious someone shilling for the broadband industry(turnabout’s fair play) who can’t even get the terminology right.

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