by Karl Bode

Filed Under:
fcc, net neutrality, title ii


Apple Throws Its Support Behind Net Neutrality. Sort Of.

from the don't-pull-a-muscle dept

While large Silicon Valley companies like Google and Facebook are often credited for being "net neutrality supporters" in the media, their actual support of the concept is often incredibly flimsy. Though it's quick to claim otherwise, Google hasn't really supported net neutrality since around 2010 or so, progressively walking back its dedication as it pushed into the fixed and wireless broadband sectors. Similarly Facebook often says all the right things, but internationally has been repeatedly accused of trampling the open internet in its quest to dominate developing nation advertising markets.

We're also now seeing similar behavior from companies like Netflix, which aggressively supported net neutrality when the streaming company was a scrappy upstart, but has since walked back its support now that it's an international video juggernaut. While these companies still occasionally pay lip service to the concept of net neutrality via their joint policy organizations, these are often token gestures -- leaving consumers, consumer advocates and smaller companies and startups alone and under-funded in the quest to maintain something vaguely resembling an open and level internet playing field.

Apple has also paid little more than fleeting lip service to neutrality over the years -- and has been largely quiet as the Trump administration works to remove most meaningful oversight of the barely-competitive telecom sector. But last week the Cupertino giant took things a little further, filing comments with the FCC in support of protecting net neutrality. Sort of. Apple does make it clear that it doesn't think ISPs should indiscriminately block, throttle or otherwise hinder competitors' content:

"Broadband providers should not block, throttle, or otherwise discriminate against lawful websites and services. Far from new, this has been a foundational principle of the FCC’s approach to net neutrality for over a decade. Providers of online goods and services need assurance that they will be able to reliably reach their customers without interference from the underlying broadband provider.”

Granted, this isn't saying much of anything. Even most large ISPs like Comcast and AT&T have made it clear they have no intent of outright blocking or banning content given the potential PR backlash. And the net neutrality has long-since become more nuanced as incumbent ISPs have been forced to be more creative with the way they hamstring competitors (usage caps, zero rating, interconnection shenanigans).

It's also commedable that Apple makes it clear that lifting the current ban on paid prioritization could prove problematic for companies whose services compete with the likes of AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon:

"Lifting the current ban on paid prioritization arrangements could allow broadband providers to favor the transmission of one provider’s content or services (or the broadband provider’s own online content or services) over other online content, fundamentally altering the internet as we know it today — to the detriment of consumers, competition, and innovation."

Again, that's great -- especially since Verizon, AT&T, Charter and Comcast have a generation of documented experience creatively abusing the lack of competition in the broadband market to hamstring competitors.

It's here however that Apple's support wavers. We've noted repeatedly how large ISPs are pushing hard for a net neutrality law -- because they know they'll be the ones writing it, ensuring it's far weaker than the current protections currently on the books. That's why if you actually care about net neutrality, you need to realize that keeping the existing (though admittedly imperfect) rules on the books is the easiest and best path forward. But Apple never explicitly urges the FCC to keep Title II and FCC authority in place, instead insisting it's open to "alternative sources of legal authority" to help protect consumers from incumbent ISP shenanigans:

“Apple remains open to alternative sources of legal authority, but only if they provide for strong, enforceable, and legally sustainable protections, like those in place today. Simply put, the internet is too important to consumers and too essential to innovation to be left unprotected and uncertain.”

The problem is there is no "alternative source of legal authority." You'll recall Verizon successfully sued to overturn the FCC's flimsy 2010 net neutrality rules, a court informing the FCC that it couldn't protect net neutrality without first returning ISPs to their pre-2002 status as "common carriers" under the telecom act. So that's what the FCC did in 2015, a decision that has been subsequently held up by the courts. The only other "alternative source of legal authority" would be a new law by Congress, and if anybody believes the current Congress is genuinely interested in passing a tough, consumer-friendly net neutrality law free of large ISP-dictated loopholes -- you've been living in some other, saner dimension.

Again. it's great to see Apple support net neutrality here, especially since they've historically been so muted -- and make it clear they only support alternatives that result in "strong, enforceable and legally sustainable protections." But with large ISP lobbyists now aggressively ramping up their quest for a new, flimsy law (see ISP-driven editorials like this one and this one and this one and this one...) companies that actually support net neutrality need to make it clear to the public that the best -- and only -- real path forward at the moment is keeping the existing, extremely popular rules intact.

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  • identicon
    Sok Puppette, 5 Sep 2017 @ 11:16am

    "Broadband providers should not block, throttle, or otherwise discriminate against lawful websites and services.”

    ... and the operators of either of the effective duopoly of mobile app stores should not block or otherwise discriminate against lawful applications, even if they compete with their own offerings...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Sep 2017 @ 11:25am

    Seems fairly strong

    I don't know, maybe I'm just an optimist but it doesn't seem like Apple is all too weak on the support of Net Neutrality. For example, yes they say they are open to alternative sources of legal authority BUT ONLY if they are as strong as the CURRENT LEGAL AUTHORITY.

    In other words, they have absolutely no problem with how NN and Title II stands today, however, they are fine if Congress wants to pass a law enshrining current and/or stronger NN rules. Just not worse. That seems like pretty strong support to me.

    I think we can all agree that getting Congress to enshrine current and/or stronger NN rules would definitely be a good idea. It's just that it isn't likely to happen.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 5 Sep 2017 @ 11:27am

      Re: Seems fairly strong

      Also, I thought Netflix pulled a fairly strong about-face on NN this year as well during the protest on July 12th.

      Could each company's response have been stronger? Yes but I don't think it was necessarily weak or wishy-washy in their support.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

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