Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Archive for July 12th, 2017

Comcast and Verizon, Counting on Ignorance, Claim to Support Net Neutrality

David L. Cohen, Senior Executive Vice President1 and Chief Diversity Officer at Comcast:

We wanted to reinforce today — to the public, our customers, regulators, and legislators — what we’ve been saying and doing for years. We support permanent, strong, legally enforceable net neutrality rules. We don’t and won’t block, throttle, or discriminate against lawful content. We also believe in full transparency; you’ll know what our customer policies are.

Apart from that time that Comcast throttled peer-to-peer traffic, or when they fucked up their throttling so badly that it broke a bunch of other applications, or that other time that they were allegedly fiddling with VoIP calls. Apart from that, there’s simply no indication that they would ever employ discriminatory practices. Or remember that time that they paid homeless people to fill seats and prevent critics from attending an FCC hearing?

Will Johnson, SVP of Federal Regulatory & Legal Affairs at Verizon:

Like those participating in the Day of Action, Verizon supports the open Internet. We’ve said so for a long time now – the open Internet is good for consumers and critical for our business. We have invested billions of dollars in dozens of content providers and producers. Our Oath subsidiary includes more than 50 brands reaching more than one billion people every month – including AOL and Yahoo, the Huffington Post, Yahoo Sports, Tumblr, Engadget, and TechCrunch. And our Verizon Digital Media Services keeps online video and other data moving across the Internet in ways that improve consumers’ experience. Like other Internet companies, these businesses depend on the ability to reach customers over other Internet Service Providers’ (ISP) networks. And if ISPs – or other Internet companies, for that matter – started engaging in practices that undermined the open Internet, we would be hurt.

It turns out that Verizon is at a disadvantage here — Comcast owns NBCUniversal, while AT&T has been trying to acquire Time Warner. Verizon, meanwhile, has been buying up whatever 1990s relics they can find for cheap, like AOL and Yahoo. If they were to deeply invest in cable and buy a movie studio, they could play in the same sandbox as Comcast and AT&T.

But that’s the thing: all of these big players want their own traffic to be given priority or, at least, treated equally, but they also want to be able to discriminate against competitors through traffic management or so-called “zero rating” policies.

Jon Brodkin of Ars Technica in December:

Separately, Wilkins sent a letter to Verizon yesterday about the company’s FreeBee Data 360 program, which also charges online service providers for data cap exemptions. The FCC’s wireless bureau “believes that the FreeBee Data 360 offering to edge providers unaffiliated with Verizon, combined with Verizon’s current practice of zero-rating its affiliated edge services for Verizon subscribers, has the potential to hinder competition and harm consumers.”

The “primary participant” in Verizon’s zero-rated data program is Go90, a video service offered by Verizon itself, the FCC said. Ars wrote about Verizon’s treatment of Go90 compared to competing video services 10 months ago.

This FCC investigation was closed earlier this year.

But these are just ISPs being ISPs, right? They’re gigantic and terrible ogres that are slowly increasing their domination of every aspect of communications and entertainment technology. Tech companies aren’t like that, right? Like, for instance, Google:

Internet companies, innovative startups, and millions of internet users depend on these common-sense protections that prevent blocking or throttling of internet traffic, segmenting the internet into paid fast lanes and slow lanes, and other discriminatory practices. Thanks in part to net neutrality, the open internet has grown to become an unrivaled source of choice, competition, innovation, free expression, and opportunity. And it should stay that way.

As I pointed out earlier this year, though, Google has their fingers in so many of the web’s pies that they’re as great of a threat to net neutrality as Comcast, AT&T, or Verizon are. They’re not alone, either: Facebook just crossed two billion active users, owns some of the most popular mobile apps, tries to keep users within their ecosystem by mirroring news articles with Instant Articles, and has one of the biggest advertising networks out there.

The coalescing of control behind a handful of very large companies is a move that’s bad for the web, any way you cut it. Pragmatically, it doesn’t matter whether those companies are ISPs, media conglomerates, or tech companies. An open and distributed net is what’s best for net neutrality. Keeping ISPs regulated under Title II is important, but so too is reducing the power of other very large companies.

One step at a time.

  1. Helluva job title. How many layers of management do you think Comcast has? ↩︎

Google Has Reportedly Been Paying Academic Researchers for Favourable Policy Papers

Todd Haselton, CNBC:

Google has paid researchers and academics who have worked on projects that support the company’s positions in battles with regulators, a report in The Wall Street Journal said on Tuesday.

Google’s practice might not sound all that different from lobbying, but The Wall Street Journal revealed that some of the professors, including a Paul Heald from the University of Illinois, didn’t disclose Google’s payments. Heald is one of “more than a dozen” such professors who accepted money from Google, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Brody Mullins and Jack Nicas, Wall Street Journal:

In some years, Google officials in Washington compiled wish lists of academic papers that included working titles, abstracts and budgets for each proposed paper—then they searched for willing authors, according to a former employee and a former Google lobbyist.

Google promotes the research papers to government officials, and sometimes pays travel expenses for professors to meet with congressional aides and administration officials, according to the former lobbyist. The research has been used, for instance, to deflect antitrust accusations against Google by the Federal Trade Commission in 2012, according to a letter Google attorneys sent to the FTC chairman and viewed by the Journal.

There’s a lack of ethics in much of what went on here — including with one of the sources of Mullins and Nicas’ report. The Campaign for Accountability’s 35-page report was published yesterday, and it makes many of the same claims as the Journal article — the Journal cites it as a source.

But the Campaign for Accountability is a kind of sketchy firm itself: they have repeatedly refused to disclose their funding sources, as Google’s Leslie Miller pointed out in a post addressing this study. When I contacted them earlier today to ask for information on their donors, Daniel Stevens, their executive director, simply sent me a copy of their response to Miller, accusing her of deflecting. I haven’t heard back from Stevens with anything more substantial or, indeed, less ironic.