Charter Hires Leading Net Neutrality Advocate To Write Its Net Neutrality Commitments, Promises To Go Further Than FCC Rules
from the who-are-you-and-what-have-you-done-with-the-cable-company? dept
By and large, the mega-ISP version of net neutrality has unsurprisingly been a far cry from the consumer and small business definition of net neutrality. At the moment, most ISPs argue that net neutrality only means they won’t throttle or outright block competing content. It’s this vague, incomplete definition (in that it doesn’t cover issues like usage caps, interconnection or zero rating) the incumbent carriers have used when they’ve told regulators they “promise to adhere to net neutrality” if the latest merger-du-jour is allowed to go through. That’s why, when Comcast promised it would adhere to “net neutrality” if it was allowed to buy NBC (and more recently Time Warner Cable), it meant — to use a highly-scientific term — jack shit.
So it’s interesting to see Charter Communications — which is trying to gobble up Time Warner Cable after Comcast’s failed merger attempt — suddenly promising to adhere to real net neutrality to get their deal done. The company is apparently dedicated enough to the idea that they’ve hired leading net neutrality and consumer advocate Marvin Ammori to help hash out a meaningful commitment that would appeal to a more consumer-focused FCC. Ammori, if you’re unaware, was basically the key player in making sure the FCC passed good rules instead of the original terrible rules.
According to a piece by Ammori over at Wired, he actually wound up writing Charter’s commitment:
“Charter hired me?which, to be honest, took some humility on its part since I have helped lead public campaigns against cable companies like Charter?to advise it in crafting its commitment to network neutrality. After our negotiation, I can say Charter is offering the strongest network neutrality commitments ever offered?in any merger or, to my knowledge, in any nation. In fact, in the end, I personally wrote the commitments.”
That in and of itself is pretty impressive; I’ve covered the broadband industry for the better part of a lifetime, and the vast, vast majority of ISP merger conditions are promises that are utterly, mind-bendingly meaningless. They’re almost always fluff and nonsense, political show ponies written by ISP lawyers to sound good to the clueless, even if they accomplish less than nothing. So for a cable company to bring on board a fierce neutrality critic to pen their commitment to neutrality is unprecedented. What’s more, while the FCC has so far turned a blind eye to more clever types of neutrality violations (like usage caps and zero rating, pretty much ground zero of the current neutrality debate), Marvin managed to get those included in Charter’s commitment as well:
“Since zero rating favors some sites over others based on the broadband provider?s preferences (not the users?), my allies and I urged the FCC to ban zero rating in all forms, but the FCC didn?t go that far. Charter necessarily will. In fact, it will commit to no data cap at all?and no usage-based billing?therefore it will be unable to exempt any applications from those practices.”
That Charter — a company that’s flirted with usage caps on and off for years — has agreed to avoid not only zero rating but usage caps entirely is a pretty big deal. Most cable operators are aggressively eyeing usage caps to jack up consumer broadband bills, well aware that inevitably users will chose to cut the TV and cable VoIP cord in exchange for over the top data services. Though only catch here, as Ammori notes, is that the restrictions only apply to Charter for a three year span, after which (especially if the FCC’s neutrality rules are killed by the courts) all gloves are off and the fight begins anew. It’s also important to remember that while Charter’s busy making these promises, it’s actively engaged in suing the FCC to destroy the net neutrality rules as a member in the NCTA.
Still, that Charter’s willing to go this far is night and day from Comcast’s merger approach, which was to dazzle everyone with an endless parade of utter bullshit and hope that nobody was smart enough to see truth, buried as it was under a junk yard of meaningless promises.