From net neutrality to municipal broadband
, to new broadband privacy rules
and a quest to open up the cable set top box to competition
, we've noted repeatedly that the FCC under Tom Wheeler isn't the same FCC
we've learned to grumble about over the years. For a twenty-year stretch, regardless of party control, the agency was utterly, dismally apathetic to the lack of competition in the broadband space. But under Wheeler, the FCC has not only made broadband competition a priority, but has engaged in other bizarre, uncharacteristic behaviors -- like using actual real-world data
to influence policy decisions.
Obviously, this doesn't please incumbent telecom operators like AT&T, Verizon and Comcast, who grew pretty comfortable with an FCC that asked "how high" when commanded to jump. The reality is that this is just what it looks like when a regulator does its job
and tries to fix a very broken market. But incapable of admitting the broadband market's horribly broken, the telecom industry instead seems intent on pointing fingers elsewhere. In a strange story over at Politico
, broadband providers blame Google for absolutely everything
the FCC has been up to.
The quest to open the set top box, the quest for more unlicensed spectrum, and the quest for better consumer privacy controls? All the fault of Alphabet and Google:
The cable industry-led Future of TV Coalition earlier this year suggested Google had "a sneak preview" of the FCC’s February plan to open up the set-top box market to new competitors. The move would require pay-TV companies to make their content streams available to third parties that want to build and sell their own boxes — a move that cable firms say is designed to benefit Google, which has already demonstrated a prototype cable box to regulators.
AT&T, meanwhile, has charged that the agency is placing its "thumb on the scale" in favor of Google via Wheeler's March proposal to impose strict privacy rules on broadband companies. The plan, according to AT&T and others, would put telecom firms at a disadvantage compared with Internet companies like Google, which wouldn't fall under the FCC rules. Internet firms' privacy practices are policed by the Federal Trade Commission, which is seen as less prescriptive.
On another front, the National Association of Broadcasters argued that Google led a behind-the-scenes push at the FCC to set aside more unlicensed airwaves — something that could boost Wi-Fi networks that support the company's products and services. NAB says this FCC set-aside allows Google to avoid having to pay for spectrum during the FCC's current incentive auction.
The telecom industry taking pot shots at Google is certainly nothing new; in fact the net neutrality debate basically began in 2005
when then AT&T CEO Ed Whitacre proudly proclaimed that Google wouldn't be able to "ride his pipes for free." Traditionally though, the telecom industry has used third-party consultants, think tanks, and other policy tendrils to hurl strange attacks
at Google. These new, more direct attacks are a sign of increased desperation.
This desperation originates with two things, one of them being Google Fiber. Though admittedly still limited
in reach, Google Fiber has managed to light a fire under the apathetic posteriors of telecom giants that previously had little to no impetus to upgrade networks. It has managed to generate a national conversation about the sorry state of broadband competition, and even managed to illuminate the telecom sector's love of state protectionist laws
that prevent community broadband and even public/private partnerships. In short, the broadband industry's mostly just pissed that they're now facing some competition (which is why they've resorted to lawsuits
to slow Google Fiber's expansion).
The other thing on telecom executives' minds is the fact that with the broadband market saturated, they're turning to advertising and content to try and attain quarterly growth. That's why Verizon's been gobbling up companies like AOL and blowing kisses at Millennials
in a quest to magically become the new Facebook or Google. But these ISPs face new neutrality and privacy regulations that Google doesn't have to worry about, solely because there's no competition in the broadband space (read: you have a choice in search engines, but often not in ISPs). This lack of competition isn't Google's fault. It's the fault of the carriers themselves and generations of lobbying.
The telecom industry has invited the wrath of regulators for years with a laundry list of bad behavior. The FCC's privacy rules weren't driven by Google, they were driven by Verizon's decision to use stealth cookies
users couldn't opt out of to covertly track customers around the Internet. Net neutrality wasn't created by Google, it was created thanks to AT&T threatening to charge Google a "just because we can" toll. And while Google has lobbied to open up the cable set top box to competition, this idea is actually more than a decade old, driven primarily by the fact that the industry enjoys $20 billion in captive revenue thanks to absolutely no serious cable set top hardware competition whatsoever.
Yes, Google and Alphabet have become lobbying behemoths since Google first started ramping up its lobbying apparatus around 2007. And yes, like any large company, Google spends a good amount of its time lobbying to saddle the other guy
with additional regulations -- something that will only increase as the company inevitably shifts from innovation to turf protection. And we've already started to witness this turn; most notably in the way Google turned its back on net neutrality in the States
the last few years.
A saint Google isn't, but to suggest that the FCC is suddenly doing its job entirely
because of Google lobbying borders on the comical, especially coming from an industry that has had its lobbying talons deep in the federal government for more than a generation. It's much the same way that ISPs and their loyal politicians have taken to attacking Netflix
for daring to criticize usage caps and standing up for net neutrality. It's snide hubris from a sector that can't come to terms with the fact that a generation of telecom regulatory capture is finally starting to crumble. Instead of adapting to shifting markets, the telecom sector would rather blame "big tech" for a firestorm of regulatory activity it brought down upon itself.