As we just got done noting
, Netflix recently admitted that it has been throttling the streams it sends to AT&T and Verizon wireless customers in order to lessen the impact of usage caps. While most everybody agrees that Netflix should have been transparent about the practice, most also agree that Netflix -- an outspoken opponent of usage caps and supporter of net neutrality -- was actually trying to improve the customer experience with the move. As such, no real harm was done, and nobody even noticed that Netflix had been doing it -- for five years
. Really not much of a story in and of itself.
But the telecom industry and its allies, outraged by Netflix's support of net neutrality, opposition to usage caps, and the threat it poses to legacy TV, have been desperately and hysterically trying to paint Netflix's reveal as some kind of immense gotcha
AT&T (fresh off of an FTC lawsuit
and FCC fine
for lying about throttling for years) insisted it was "outraged" by Netflix's behavior. The American Cable Association (fresh off of 10 years of claiming net neutrality was an unnecessary solution to a hallucinated problem) insisted that Netflix should be investigated
for its awful behavior, and the FCC should actually expand
net neutrality rules to cover so-called "edge" providers. Now FCC Commissioner Mike O'Rielly has joined the fun, insisting that the FTC, FCC, and
Congress should investigate Netflix immediately
"Netflix has attempted to paint a picture of altruism whereby it virtuously sought to save these consumers from bumping up against or exceeding their data caps," O'Rielly said. "There is no way to sugarcoat it: the news is deeply disturbing and justly generates calls for government—and maybe even Congressional—investigation."
It's true what Netflix did wasn't entirely altruistic. Reducing the streams of capped customers means they'll be less likely to erode their usage caps quickly, and happier with Netflix's service. But when it comes to looking out for consumers on the issue of net neutrality and usage caps, Netflix has been nothing but a genuine consumer ally -- while bigger companies professing to love net neutrality (**cough** Google) -- ran and hid when the going got politically tough during the most recent fight over net neutrality rule verbiage.
If you're unfamiliar with O'Rielly, he and FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai (a former Verizon lawyer) vote down absolutely every pro-consumer action item
that comes to the FCC, and certainly
if it attempts to hold a large telecom company accountable for clear, obvious fraud. From holding AT&T accountable for ripping off the poor
or the hearing impaired
, to thwarting prison phone companies from ripping off inmate families
, O'Rielly votes it all
down, consistently lamenting government waste and overreach, while praising the natural ability of the free market to overcome all evil using something akin to magic.
In a recent blog post
, O'Rielly argues at great lengths that government should simply stay out of the affairs of the private sector
"In communications, government is exceedingly busy and involved. It tries to dictate performance of the private sector, enter the marketplace itself, prop-up failing firms, chase flawed policy goals, subsidize favored classes or companies, stifle the offerings of goods and services by disliked firms, tilt the playing field in certain directions and much worse. While some level of activity occurs because of legacy policies, the constant tinkering inevitably interferes with the workings of capitalism and promotes bad outcomes.
And here's an editorial O'Rielly recently co-wrote for Forbes
in which the FCC Commissioner rails against government interference in industry as an assault on innovation, citing Netflix itself as a prime success story thanks to a hands-off government approach:
"Given the unparalleled record of U.S. success in developing and bringing new, innovative technology products to market with a relatively hands-off regulatory approach, you would think there would be extreme hesitancy to alter that formula. The environment that brought us services like Amazon and Netflix is no accident, but instead can be attributed to a conscious decision to let the tech sector develop with minimal government intervention."
And while channeling Milton Friedman is certainly fine, here the Commissioner is, pushing for a multi-agency investigation into a non-starter. And when O'Rielly can't seem to find any rules that Netflix might have broken, he just starts hunting and pecking around in the dirt to try and find some:
"A company cannot knowingly make misrepresentations and inaccurate statements before the Commission," O'Rielly said. "In fact, doing so violates Commission rules intended to protect the integrity of the Commission and our decisions. We need to closely examine filings that were made for potential violations in light of this new information. It appears that Netflix made accusations of wrongdoing by ISPs, all the while knowing that its own practices were one of the causes of consumer video downgrading."
But when pressed to cite precisely what "misrepresentations and inaccurate statements" Netflix made before the FCC, O'Rielly can't actually cite any. So again, O'Rielly has whined incessantly about how net neutrality and the lack of broadband competition aren't real or deserving of government attention whatsoever
, yet he's pushing for a multi-pronged government investigation into Netflix -- for trying to help customers on expensive wireless plans? It's another example of how Washington is painfully beholden to companies like AT&T, Comcast and Verizon, while simultaneously lecturing the public on the miracle of free markets.