Unneutral Thoughts About Net Neutrality

Some days, like today, I think my life is just a series of media flashpoints. 

For example, the idea of net neutrality has stayed happily out of my head, until just the other day when an Advertising Age piece got me worried about it in a new way.

And that was right after John Oliver’s excellent rant about Net neutrality and the power of cable companies to have their way with the Internet by having their way with politicians.

In about 13 minutes, on his new HBO show Sunday night, Oliver excoriated the cable business and the FCC over Net neutrality.

Bashing cable fit right into my point of view, having just had one of those baffling phone exchanges with a cable company that in the space of about 10 minutes (after mandatory hold time) managed to completely contradict themselves four times. It made me receptive to an end-of-the-world cable/Net neutrality scenario. Ad Age gave it to me.

AdAge worries that, “If the FCC does allow Internet Service Providers to give speedier data delivery to companies willing to pay for the privilege, the online ad and publishing industries could look a lot different in the not-so-distant future… It might take a lot longer to load a video ad than the page content around it, or vice versa depending on who pays for better service. And new competition in today's commoditized programmatic ad sector could become reality.”

Programmatic ad buying and positioning is all about speed, even more than consumer satisfaction is tied to being able to rapidly download information and video. 

In a new two-tiered Internet world, AdAge imagines that while you’re on a site--let’s say a sports magazine site--the video from an advertiser, or just some advertisers that paid extra for the fast pipe, may show up a lot quicker than the content.  (Oh, maybe not so bad. Apparently that happens already to an extent.)

John Oliver’s screed on his HBO weekly, “Last Night Tonight” lit into the cable companies for controlling the content pipeline, and urged viewers, and the creepy people who comment with cruelty even about dancing baby videos, to complain about touching net neutrality rules.  

He makes some impressive points, not because they’re new but because they’re given some absurd flesh.    

When you see a blow up chart of the delivery speed Comcast provided to get Netflix video to your home before Netflix made its own separate deal to speed things up, you can get plenty impressed. 

There’s a red line of Netflix’s download speed going ever downward until the deal is made. Then suddenly, that line goes zooming upward.

“That has all the earmarks of a mob shakedown,” Oliver says, which got a big laugh on HBO, but would have fit right in on a “60 Minutes” piece.  

Shortly after that he noted that Comcast has given lavishly to influence politicians--and mentioned how President Obama somehow saw fit to make Thomas Wheeler, the former head of cable’s industry organization, the head of the FCC.  How convenient. Even Estonia,  Oliver notes, has faster Internet speeds than the average rate in this country.

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