One of the reasons we so strongly support local, community owned broadband networks over European-like regulations on private companies is that large institutions regularly game the rules. We wrote about this last year, when Free Press called on the FCC to stop Verizon from ignoring the rules it agreed to for using certain spectrum.
Senator Franken, who has taken a strong interest in preserving the open Internet, has just reminded the FCC that creating rules does no one any good if it refuses to enforce them.
Not only has Comcast announced that its own Netflix-like service does not count against its bandwidth caps, some researchers found evidence that Comcast was prioritizing its own content to be higher quality than rivals could deliver. Comcast has denied this charge and proving it is difficult. Who do you believe? After all, Comcast spent years lying to its own subscribers about the very existence of its bandwidth caps.
The vast majority of the network neutrality debate centers around whether Comcast should be allowed to use its monopoly status as an onramp to the Internet dominate other markets, like delivering movies (as pioneered by Netflix). Comcast and many economists from Chicago say “Heck yes – they can do whatever they like.” But the vast majority of us and the FCC have recognized that this is market-destroying behavior, not pro-market behavior.
So when Comcast was allowed to take over NBC Universal, it agreed to certain conditions imposed by the FCC to encourage competition. But the FCC has a long history of not wanting to enforce its own rules because it can be inconvenient to upset some of the most powerful corporations on the planet. Plus, many of the people working in telecommunications policy for the federal government will eventually make much more money working for Comcast, Verizon, and other carriers.
The FCC often ignores or delays action on many of these apparent violations, which Comcast expected when it agreed to them. In waltzes Senator Franken, who just wrote this excellent letter to the FCC and Department of Justice [pdf]:
… It has now been more than a year since the merger was approved, and a number of complaints regarding Comcast’s compliance with the merger conditions have been filed with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Several of these have languished before the Commission for extended periods of time. As I wrote last August, I am concerned that if the Commission fails to address conditions disputes in a timely manner, it will only incentivize Comcast to challenge future conditions and delay resolution of disputes through a protracted complaint process. It will also dissuade other companies from seeking relief before the Commission, if they believe Comcast has violated a condition. This ultimately undermines the conditions that were imposed by your agencies to promote the public interest and to foster competition, and it raises serious questions about whether it is appropriate to rely on behavioral conditions to prevent anticompetitive conduct.
Even if the FCC had the courage to restrain Comcast’s anti-competitive actions (which would require a new Chair to replace Commissioner G), Comcast could delay any implementation of proper pro-competition rules with lawsuits and a strong lobbying campaign because Americans continue to vote for politicians that want to give more power to the biggest corporations while reserving less of it for local communities.
What are your Senators doing on this issue? Senator Franken is demanding accountability from the FCC and DoJ – you should call on your elected representatives to do no less. Today.
Radio and television are totally dominated by a few massive corporate interests. The only thing to stop the Internet from being similarly controlled is smart policies and government agencies that actually enforce them. Oh, and communities that own their own networks.