You’ve got to hand it to Time Warner Cable’s lawyers — they certainly deserve an A+ for creative writing. Per The National Journal, both Time Warner Cable and the National Cable and Telecommunications Association lobbying group have filed comments with the Federal Communications Commission warning that major Internet companies such as Google, Facebook and Netflix are the real threats to net neutrality because they could threaten to charge ISPs extra money for the rights to let their customers access their websites. We are sadly not joking.
“A relatively concentrated group of large [Web companies] — such as Google, Netflix, Microsoft, Apple, Amazon, and Facebook — have enormous and growing power over consumers’ ability to access the content of their choice on the Internet,” writes the NCTA. “It makes no sense to focus exclusively on Internet access providers and ignore conduct by [websites] that threatens similar harms.”
This sort of complaint might make sense if cable companies actually competed fiercely one another for Internet service customers, but they really just don’t. If Google and Netflix were to threaten to bar Comcast from delivering their traffic, they wouldn’t hurt Comcast since many Comcast customers simply don’t have a choice when it comes to picking an ISP. Instead, they’d merely be depriving themselves of customers without doing anything to harm individual cable companies’ dominance in individual markets.
What’s more, we really need to consider how Internet companies’ business models work before you consider the likelihood that they’d ever do such a thing — they thrive when people access their content. More clicks mean more advertising dollars, which in turn means higher revenues.
Were Google, Netflix, Pandora or Facebook to shut off access to millions of customers just to extract an extra payment from TWC or Comcast, they’d be shooting themselves in the foot, especially since frustrated users would likely drift toward alternatives such as Bing, Spotify and Amazon Prime. Unlike with cable companies, consumers have an abundance of choices for what services they use online.
But hey, cable company lawyers need to make a living too and that means coming up with original arguments that demonstrate that major Internet companies are the “real” threat to an open Internet. We aren’t sure if these lawyers can cite any real precedent for this sort of thing, although the classic case of “Rubber V. Glue” certainly comes to mind.