Should the internet self-regulate? Or should the FCC have a say?
Even within the content-creation and content-delivery industries,
opinions vary widely -- often within the same company, or even
within the same person.
Let's listen in on a spirited debated between ... well, I'll let
you decide if it's two industry executives, or actually just one
with a disturbingly split personality. I'll call them -- or him --
Walt and Heisenberg.
Walt: I don't know, I like the
internet -- I like a lot of the stuff on the internet, and
I like being able to access it without some sort of gatekeeper
deciding how quickly or slowly it gets to me. What's wrong with the
FCC having a nondiscrimination rule?
Heisenberg: Do you believe in capitalism?
Walt: Well, yes.
Heisenberg: Do you believe in the rule of
Walt: Of course.
Heisenberg: Then you shouldn't be in favor of a
federal agency arbitrarily, by fiat, deciding it
can tell me how to run my own business!
Walt: But isn't that what the FCC does? Make up
rules that regulate communications?
Heisenberg: Yes, but Congress never declared
broadband providers to be regulated utilities -- so-called "common
carriers." This is my territory. Stay out of my
Walt: But how is it good for consumers to have
individual companies decide that they can throttle specific
Heisenberg: It happens all the time with
cellular data! AT&T,
Verizon, T-Mobile -- they all throttle bandwidth hogs.
Walt: But consumers hate that.
Heisenberg: And that's my problem how,
exactly? We can't let a bunch of bandwidth hogs ruin things for
everyone. The point is, consumers need to trust us to keep
everything flowing by stopping some things from
Walt: But the idea that we're running out of
bandwidth, that it needs to be rationed, is a myth. And what
happens to streaming video if you get to decide what data packets
Heisenberg: Listen, every Tom, Dick and Harry
with fat data packets can't just be allowed to clog my pipes. I've
got my own fat packets to worry about.
Walt: But that's the point! Broadband providers
are hopelessly conflicted these days! Think of Time Warner owning
Time Warner Cable and a zillion content assets at the same time,
from HBO to Warner Brothers. Or Comcast owning NBC Universal and everything under
its umbrella. So you're saying that broadband providers
should get to prioritize the flow of their own content if
they want to, and screw, say, Netflix, if they feel like it?
Heisenberg: You want my honest opinion?
Heisenberg: Netflix must die! And YouTube and
Hulu too! And --
Walt: But why?
Heisenberg: Because I don't own them. Because
this is my territory. Because -- because I say
Walt: Look, I think you're putting yourself in
danger -- you're putting us in danger -- over the long
term if you throttle other companies' product. Because they're
going to turn around and throttle your product because
they have their own product to push.
Heisenberg: You think I'm in danger? I
am the danger. I am the one who knocks!
Walt: Let me ask you something: Are you in the
content business? Or the content-delivery business?
Heisenberg: Neither. I'm in the empire
Walt: Wow. Well, I -- I don't know what to
Heisenberg: Why don't you say nothing?
You're always whining and complaining about how I make my money,
dragging me down while I do everything. After I've told you and
told you to keep your damn mouth shut? How dare you.
Walt: [after a long pause] Should we be
abruptly fading to black and rolling the credits here or
Heisenberg: Yeah, let's do that. Oh, and one
more thing: Your move, FCC.
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Simon Dumenco is the "Media Guy" media columnist for
Advertising Age. Follow him on Twitter @simondumenco.