from the trolls-under-the-bridge dept
I’ve got some bad news for those of you who were frustrated or bored by decades of net neutrality bickering: it’s about to kick off all over again. And this time it’s even more global.
In the UK, US, EU, and South Korea, telecom lobbyists have been making successful inroads on plans that would force “Big Tech” to pay “Big Telecom” companies billions of dollars for no coherent reason. They’ve convinced gullible lawmakers that tech companies get a “free ride” on the Internet, and should therefore be forced to pay telecom giants even more money to shore up essential infrastructure.
Of course there are numerous problems here. One, the common claim that a tech company like Netflix or Google gets a “free ride” on the Internet is a lie pushed by telecom companies that we’ve debunked countless times. It’s a several decade old attempt by telecom giants with a rich history of subsidy fraud and skimping on fiber upgrades to “double dip” — effectively getting paid extra for no reason.
Somehow telecom lobbyists and the the politicians paid to love them have tried to dress this up as a serious adult policy proposal. Here in the states, Trump appointed FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr, who has never seen an AT&T policy proposal he hasn’t fawned over, has been beating this drum for several years. The effort has seen greater traction in the EU and South Korea, where one ISP went so far as to sue Netflix, claiming Squid Game’s popularity strained their networks unfairly.
Just like in the older net neutrality wars, when the press covers this stuff they utterly fail to illustrate to readers how much of it is bullshit. This CNBC article, for example, frames the issue this way:
Telecom groups are pushing European regulators to consider implementing a framework where the companies that send traffic along their networks are charged a fee to help fund mammoth upgrades to their infrastructure, something known as the “sender pays” principle.
Their logic is that certain platforms, like Amazon Prime and Netflix, chew through gargantuan amounts of data and should therefore foot part of the bill for adding new capacity to cope with the increased strain.
“The simple argument is that telcos want to be duly compensated for providing this access and growth in traffic,” media and telecoms analyst Paolo Pescatore, from PP Foresight, told CNBC.
But none of this framing is remotely true. It’s Netflix customers who are demanding this content over broadband subscriptions they already pay an arm and a leg for due to limited broadband competition. It’s being delivered by content companies that have spent countless billions on their own transit routes, undersea cables, bandwidth, cloud infrastructure, and content delivery networks.
If an ISP network can’t handle this demand, the reason is uniformly because the ISP in question didn’t scale its network upgrades to meet demand. This isn’t your fault. This isn’t “Big Tech’s” fault. It’s the fault of telecom monopolies that routinely hoover up billions in subsidies and tax breaks in exchange for networks they always, routinely, half-deliver.
CNBC goes on, claiming this is all a big problem with “no clear solution,” with the closest it gets to skepticism being some questions about the logistics about it all:
But the solution is clear and simple: don’t listen to telecom monopolies when they make up problems, then demand billions in new taxes and subsidies for no reason. Telecom experts in the EU and US have been trying to tell policymakers this with very mixed results.
This whole mess is basically just Ma Bell looking for a hand out and dressing it up as serious adult policymaking, with the help of a gullible press. Meanwhile companies like Netflix, whose dedication to net neutrality grew strained as they grew big and powerful, now find themselves trying to, once again, fend off calls that they should subsidize big telecom, suggesting that such maybe their original principles shouldn’t have been so easily discarded.
One “tell” if you’re struggling to detect who’s engaging this policy conversation in good faith: the captured policymakers pushing the idea never discuss the real reason broadband is so spotty and expensive: monopoly power, mindless consolidation, corruption, and decades of subsidy fraud by the biggest players (see our recent report on just this subject).
Captured politicians frame this tax on big tech as some kind of miracle cure for the “digital divide.” A super easy way to nab some easy political brownie points. In reality, it’s just another way to distract you from the real problem: telecom monopolization and the corruption that protects it.