For the last year, telecoms companies haven’t stopped talking about how much infrastructure investment has been cancelled because of the FCC’s “draconian” new regulations.
Now, that’s bullshit — but you know what probably has got in the way of investment in new broadband infrastructure? The half a billion dollars that Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T have spent lobbying the federal government to kill net neutrality rules.
A study by Maplight, spotted by DSLReports, claims that “Comcast, AT&T, Verizon and the National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA) have spent $572 million on attempts to influence the FCC and other government agencies since 2008.” To put that in perspective, that’s more money spent on lobbying than the defense, automotive, or banking industries over the same period. Only the pharmaceutical and oil industries have consistently spent more.
The money is being spent to fight what ISPs see as an existential threat to their business models: net neutrality. The key idea behind net neutrality is that all data travelling over an ISP’s network must be treated the same. It prevents ISPs from blocking or favoring one type of traffic over another, something that’s absolutely critical to the open and fair internet that we enjoy right now.
Internet service providers ensuring a fair and open internet might sound like a no-brainer, but it makes more sense when you consider exactly the kind of companies that are providing your internet. The internet service companies lobbying hardest against net neutrality are also major cable TV providers — and in most cases, also own the networks that produce the content.
Pay TV has been a big profit-driver for years, but a well-documented change in the way people consume their moving pictures (hint: Netflix!) is driving more people to cut the cord than ever. Even though the pay TV companies are slowly changing with the times and offering streaming TV services, a completely fair and open internet actually runs counter to their interests.
As it stands currently with cable TV, most consumers don’t have a choice. If you want a cable TV package, you buy it from whichever provider offers in your network. The majority of customers can’t shop around, simply because they don’t have any options.
Those regional monopolies (and associated lack of competition) are threatened by streaming TV services. The beauty of an internet-delivered TV package is that (in theory!) it works anywhere in the country. YouTube and Netflix simply don’t have regional blackouts, and the big telecoms companies are worried that the same thing is about to happen to pay TV.
So, it stands to reason that they’d use the last weapon at their disposal to fight back against internet streaming plans: control of the internet itself. Right now, the abuse of power is subtle — things like Verizon and AT&T not counting data used to stream their own TV plans against the cap. In the future, it could be far more blatant: imagine your ISP charging you extra per month to access Netflix and YouTube.
That’s the nightmare that the internet is holding a day of protest against today. That’s the future that ISPs have invested half a billion dollars to build. You pick the side.