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FCC supremo slams big cable in gridiron Robin Hood metaphor mash-up

It's net neutrality, I'm Buckeye, they're Little John, is that all clear?

Net neutrality Tom Wheeler, the chairman of US broadband regulator the FCC, fresh from no fewer than four Congressional grillings, has given a spirited defense of his radical net neutrality rules.

And by spirited defense, we mean, slamming big cable for trying to control the internet.

In a keynote at his alma mater, Ohio State University, Wheeler embarked on a series of metaphors from American football to Robin Hood to explain why US telcos deserve a good kicking, and that everyone should be grateful for it.

"The Commission’s Open Internet Order rests on a basic choice - whether those who build the networks should make the rules by themselves or whether there should be a basic set of rules and a referee on the field to throw the flag if they are violated," he noted, pointing out that after the internet the college football playoff is the "second greatest innovation of modern history." Note: he is a proud Buckeye.

That flag-throwing referee then becomes a green-hatted outlaw feared by the bad and loved by the good:

You remember the story of Robin Hood when he encountered Little John; Robin Hood wanted to cross the river but Little John controlled the passage from one side to another. Unlike Robin Hood, today’s consumers lack the power to fight back against ISPs.

Then: from fictitious hero to policeman.

We can have a cop on the beat to enforce common sense rules of the road that ensure Internet openness for consumers and innovators, without any retail rate regulation or similar rules that would hamper investment in faster networks. Or we can have the people who operate the networks making the rules for the Internet and leave decisions about blocking, throttling, and prioritizing traffic to them.

Two legs bad

The same message – cable companies bad – is reiterated repeatedly: "As gatekeepers, the ISPs have the power to decide what travels between consumers and the Internet; they have all of the tools necessary to block, degrade or favor some content over others. In fact, there is no doubt that broadband providers have the ability to disadvantage companies that need to use their transmission services to distribute products and services to the public."

Also: "We should conclude that the biggest broadband providers in the land have one objective – to operate free from control by their customers and free from oversight from government."

These cable companies then tried to derail our referee/outlaw/cop with an "avalanche of arguments" which created a "fog of advocacy" through which our eponymous hero bravely waded. He emerged from the other side victorious. And right.

How do we know? Because the companies share prices didn't move much:

Most importantly, ISP share prices were not adversely affected by the contemplation and adoption of the regulations. Very curious. Perhaps real investors, many of them, these days, professional investors, aided by professional securities analysts, concluded that the regulations wouldn’t do any damage. They might even have concluded that the regulations would do more good than harm. Just as I believe.

And now all is good and rosy. Wheeler had to decide "whether to stand with incumbents or with consumers and internet innovators" – and he chose consumers and internet innovators. Innovators like tiny startup Google and struggling production company Netflix.

The FCC has done a fantastic job – just ask its chairman. ®

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