Results tagged “Internet platforms”

July 21, 2017 8:14 AM

Net Narcissism: Internet Giants Reflect Danger for an Open Internet

The Internet giants, and their lobbying groups, organized a "Day of Action" last week.  Internet users were urged to feel outrage, because, the tech giants threatened, unless the FCC steps in to micromanage your Internet service (which the FCC gave itself  authority to do 2 years ago), then the websites you love will be blocked/throttled/discriminated against unless you pay your Internet Service Provider ("ISP") more money.  

Of course, if your ISP wanted more money from you, it would be easier to just raise your rates; but they can't, because if they did, they know you would cancel your service.  The fact is that none of these dystopian threats make any sense, from the standpoint of your ISP; which is why net neutrality advocates offer threats instead of actual examples of harm.

So where do these scary, remote--yet strangely-not-impossible-sounding--stories come from?  To better understand, let's consider Oscar Wilde's uniquely wry twist on another, much older, myth.

Wilde's Narcissus

Most of us are familiar with the story of Narcissus, the beautiful youth so taken with his own beauty that he fell in love with the image of his reflection in a clear pool and stared at it until he died. Oscar Wilde's version comes from his poem, "The Disciple." 

When Narcissus died the pool of his pleasure changed from a cup of sweet waters into a cup of salt tears, and the Oreads came weeping through the woodland that they might sing to the pool and give it comfort.

And when they saw that the pool had changed from a cup of sweet waters into a cup of salt tears, they loosened the green tresses of their hair and cried to the pool and said, 'We do not wonder that you should mourn in this manner for Narcissus, so beautiful was he.'

'But was Narcissus beautiful?' said the pool.

'Who should know that better than you?' answered the Oreads. 'Us did he ever pass by, but you he sought for, and would lie on your banks and look down at you, and in the mirror of your waters he would mirror his own beauty.'

And the pool answered, 'But I loved Narcissus because, as he lay on my banks and looked down at me, in the mirror of his eyes I saw ever my own beauty mirrored.'
Tell Us About Yourself

Like both the pool and Narcissus, when the tech giants gaze into the Internet access market, they don't see the competition that is giving consumers ever higher speeds of bandwidth per dollar spent.  Instead, the tech giants see only their reflection, which is downright scary.  Thus, the dystopic "without net neutrality" scenarios offered by the tech giants' special interest groups don't sound totally crazy because every one of them is based on something that at least one of their sponsors has already done. Let's look at a classic.

The Classic "Fast Lane/Slow Lane" Nightmare

This one has been around since the FCC's first net neutrality rulemaking and is one of the tech activist/lobbyist favorites and was prominently promoted by last week's "Day of Action."  The story goes that without [net neutrality rules and/or Title II classification], the ISPs will favor their own (or affiliated) content, and everyone else (i.e., all the websites you like) will be confined to the "slow lane."

Fast Lane_Slow Lane2.jpg

Where Does It Come From?

Every single Internet platform giant prioritizes "its" content--meaning that of its advertisers. Google, of course, is the best known of these.  Last month, the EU antitrust authority hit the company with a $2.7 billion fine last month for using its dominant search platform (over 90% market share in Europe) to discriminate in favor of its own Google Shopping, and disadvantage those of unaffiliated, rival sellers.

Google's practice of "promoting" its customers over others essentially leaves businesses--web-based or not--with the false choice of paying to be a customer, or taking themselves off the Internet.  This false choice is made more evident in the context of the large and growing mobile Internet.  The New York Times, in a recent article describing Yelp's struggle to compete with Google, notes the observation of an analyst (who recommends buying Google stock, but not Yelp's),

[a]s the internet has migrated to mobile phones, Google has compensated for the smaller screen space by filling it with so many ads that users can have a hard time finding a result that hasn't been paid for.
Facebook, too, does the same thing--though it uses the word "advertiser" quite liberally.  In a recent Wall Street Journal essay, describing a number of market power abuses by the tech giants, Jonathan Taplin notes the controversy involving media buyers and Facebook over its ad billing.  Facebook advertisers are paying a handsome price to be in the fast lane because, as Taplin notes, "the 'viewability scores' for Facebook video ads are as low as 2% when compared with the standard used for TV ads." 

Do ISPs Favor Content? 

No.  As an initial matter, it's worth noting that the majority of web "content" is delivered over private networks and not the public Internet. However, even in situations where the ISP's broadband customers were using their Internet access to avoid purchasing high-margin pay-per-view video services from their cable ISPs (like adult video and WWE events), the ISPs did nothing to interfere with their Internet subscribers' choice of content. Of course, the web incumbents know this very well, as they invested in and built their businesses well before the FCC had any formal net neutrality rules.

*    *    *

Thomas Hazlett noted, 11 years ago, the paradox between the new public policy Google had started floating in 2005, and the actions that Google was taking in the market as it acquired YouTube, "[t]he internet really is not open - if, as Google hopes, it is doing it right."  Hazlett also wonders if Google's public policy might not have a lot to do with the fact that--at a time when it was only the 3rd ranked search engine on the Internet--Google itself benefited from an exclusive distribution agreement with an ISP (AOL).  

Perhaps the "close-the-door-behind-itself" aspect of Google's net neutrality policy is as good an explanation as any for the observation, in a recent Vox article that, "we haven't had a major new technology company in 10 years." Rules that prevent ISP's from offering innovative services to all customers--edge providers and retail end-users--don't just prevent the Internet from responding to consumer demand, they also ensure that the access network will continue to simply reflect and reinforce the images projected upon it by the tech giants.