from the zero-credibility dept
With net neutrality rules currently on the chopping block, Comcast’s top lobbyist is once again trying to sell people on letting giant ISPs pick winners and losers on the internet. The FCC’s 2015 net neutrality rules explicitly banned “paid prioritization,” or letting one company (say, Disney) buy itself a network advantage over more cash-strapped competitors. While the FCC’s 2015 rules carved out vast exceptions for legitimate prioritization (VoIP, medical services), they made it clear that anti-competitive paid prioritization deals of this kind distorted the traditionally level playing field, letting the wealthiest companies buy an unfair edge over competitors.
And while Comcast used to promise that it would never consider such deals, those promises have slowly but surely evaporated the closer we get to the net neutrality repeal the company has spent millions on. As we get closer to a country without real net neutrality protections, Comcast’s promises to avoid such pay-to-play schemes have been not-coincidentally mysteriously disappearing from the company’s website.
Now Comcast’s top lobbyist David Cohen (who calls himself the company’s “Chief Diversity Officer” to tap dance around lobbying disclosure rules) has been making the rounds trying to suggest that paid prioritization isn’t all that bad. Speaking at a recent telecom industry-funded think tank event, Cohen tried to argue that “politics” has gotten in the way of a real conversation about such proposals, and that hard rules banning all prioritization would hamstring innovation:
“He said there has been a recognition that “something might come along that is not anticompetitive, that is pro-consumer, and that is a specialized service not available to every user of the internet that would be in the public interest.”
He said the paid prioritization/specialized service example, which he raised at last week?s American Cable Association conference in Washington, was about what could happen if people sat down to talk about the issue rather than playing politics with it. His point was that there was a conversation to be had about pro-consumer, non-anticompetitive services if folks would get past the politics.”
But that’s bullshit. There was a way to allow sensible, innovative prioritization deals while still outlawing anti-competitive paid prioritization: the 2015 FCC rules that Cohen and his buddies lobbied the Trump FCC to repeal. Again, we had this problem pretty much resolved already with rules that allowed for the prioritization of essential and specialized services, but prohibited deals that put smaller players at an anti-competitive disadvantage. Rules that took years of debate to craft, only to be discarded because the Trump FCC decided to ignore the public, ignore the experts, and kiss Comcast’s giant, monopolistic ass.
This idea that net neutrality will hamper innovation is a canard the industry has been circulating for years. Both Comcast and Verizon have also repeatedly tried to falsely claim that net neutrality rules harm the sick and disabled, despite the fact that’s never been remotely true. But said canards have been dusted off and repurposed as Cohen renews a push for “rational” net neutrality legislation with weaker limits on prioritization deals:
“If rational people will sit down and talk about this, they can even resolve what has become a third rail around bipartisan network neutrality legislation,” he said.”
What’s Cohen’s really up to here? Again, the broadband industry is (quite justly) worried that the Trump FCC’s net neutrality repeal won’t hold up in court, in large part thanks to all the shady behavior the FCC either directly engaged in or turned a blind eye toward during the repeal. Large ISPs like Comcast, AT&T and Verizon are also increasingly worried about the fact that more than half the states in the country are now pursuing their own net neutrality rules in the wake of federal apathy on the subject.
As such, the industry is pushing hard for a fake net neutrality law it knows its lawyers will get to write. A law so filled with loopholes it would be effectively useless in policing net neutrality. But it would serve one primary purpose: it would both pre-empt tougher state efforts, and prevent the FCC’s 2015 rules from being restored in the wake of an FCC and industry court loss. As large ISPs get more and more nervous about their chances in court, you’re going to see the sale pitch for this bogus “compromise” legislative solution only grow.
Again, if you support net neutrality, the best path forward rests with the courts, not garbage “compromise” legislation being pushed by a company with zero credibility on this subject. If the courts don’t stop the FCC’s repeal, the next best option is voting out the lawmakers that sold out the public at Comcast’s behest, then trying again down the road with an FCC and Congress that isn’t quite so cash-compromised.