from the troll-tolls dept
A few months back we noted how FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr had taken to Newsweek to dust off a fifteen year old AT&T talking point. Namely that “big tech” companies get a “free ride” on telecom networks, and, as a result, should throw billions of dollars at “big telecom” for no real reason. You’ll recall it was this exact argument that launched the net neutrality debate, when former AT&T CEO Ed Whitacre proclaimed that Google wouldn’t be allowed to “ride his pipes for free.” Basically, telecom giants have long wanted somebody else to fund network builds they routinely leave half finished despite billions in subsidies.
While this dumb argument originated with AT&T, it has been adopted by countless international telecoms over the years. Like this week, when a coalition of 13 large European telecom companies signed a joint letter demanding that U.S. tech giants pay them more money for no coherent reason:
“Large and increasing part of network traffic is generated and monetized by big tech platforms, but it requires continuous, intensive network investment and planning by the telecommunications sector. This model?which enables EU citizens to enjoy the fruits of the digital transformation?can only be sustainable if such big tech platforms also contribute fairly to network costs.”
Again, this is the idiotic argument that just never dies. We had an entire fifteen year net neutrality debate over this that nobody appears to have learned much from.
Tech giants like Google already pay for not only bandwidth, but they own billions of dollars worth of transit routes, undersea cables, and other infrastructure (Google even runs its own residential ISP). Consumers also pay an arm and a leg for bandwidth thanks to heavily monopolized telecom markets. This idea that anybody in this chain gets a free ride is absolutely ridiculous. Telecom giants regularly enjoy fat profits thanks to limited competition and largely feckless government oversight. They’re also endlessly subsidized to finish networks routinely left mysteriously undercooked.
Telecom is basically just trying to exploit its market power in a bid to nab an unnecessary troll toll. Yet despite being in bad faith with little merit, it doesn’t take much for telecom giants to dust off the dumb argument and re-inject it into the discourse every few years. That’s thanks in large part to unskeptical news outlets like Reuters that parrot the claims in good faith, without including any important context. For example, Reuters frames the entire debate like this:
“The call by the CEOs comes as the telecoms industry faces massive investments for 5G, fibre and cable networks to cope with data and cloud services provided by Netflix and Google’s YouTube and Facebook.
Reuters doesn’t deem it worth mentioning that it’s consumers demanding access to those services. Consumers that already pay their regional telecom monopoly an arm and a leg for broadband. This demand isn’t somehow “big tech’s” fault. Nor is it somehow big tech’s responsibility to pay an extra troll toll if an ISP fails to meet consumer bandwidth demand despite bloated revenues. Reuters (much like telecom allies like the FCC’s Brendan Carr) also somehow omits how global telecom giants routinely underinvest in network upgrades despite billions of dollars in tax breaks, subsidies, and regulatory favors over a period of decades.
It’s just uncanny how telecom just keeps trotting out the same dumb argument that it deserves to be paid extra for no coherent reason, and the majority of news outlets parrot the request as if it’s actually being made in good faith.