With broadband privacy rules dead, ISP lobbyists and their loyal lawmakers have begun quickly shifting their attention to killing FCC oversight of broadband providers and net neutrality. We’ve pointed out how folks concerned about this shouldn’t expect a lot of help from the likes of Facebook, Netflix and Google this go round. We’ve also noted how folks need to begin waking up to the false arguments being used to sell the pitch (namely that gutting net neutrality and FCC authority over ISPs will be fine because existing FTC rules will protect users, which simply isn’t true).
Roku certainly appears to have gotten the message, with reports suggesting the company has hired DC lobbyists for the first time ahead of what’s expected to be a May or June attack on net neutrality (either at the FCC, in Congress, or a combination of both):
“For Roku and others in the business, an end to the Obama-era protections could make it harder — or, in some cases, more expensive — to offer content or services to customers at top download speeds. That’s why Roku has hired a pair of Republican lobbyists through an outside government-affairs firm, according to a federal ethics reports filed this week, specifically to focus on net neutrality. It’s the first time the company has ever retained lobbyists in Washington, D.C.”
Roku, like countless other companies, is considering a live TV streaming platform that would compete with services from the likes of AT&T, Verizon and Comcast. Via usage caps and zero rating, these providers have already been waging a not-so-subtle war on streaming competitors. The former FCC had just started doling out wrist slaps for this sort of anti-competitive behavior, though the current Ajit Pai-led FCC was quick to kill all inquiries into the tactic. As we’ve long-noted, this kind of behavior is only made possible by a lack of competition in the broadband space, something the current FCC is clearly not interested in fixing.
Roku has been on the receiving end of other anti-competitive behaviors by the likes of Comcast, designed to protect the cable industry’s long-standing monopoly over cable TV hardware. While not technically a net neutrality violation, Comcast spent years refusing to implement the relatively-simple authentication needed to let Comcast broadband customers watch services like HBO Go on Roku, Playstation, or other devices. And while it has since backed off that behavior, it’s now charging Roku users a completely arbitrary $7.95 fee just to use the Roku to watch Comcast TV services.
As we’ve long noted, these kinds of anti-competitive behaviors are just symptoms of the disease that is the lack of competition in the broadband market (which, contrary to some narratives, is far from “free,” is deeply taxpayer subsidized, and doesn’t magically fix itself with blind deregulation). With the current FCC making it abundantly clear it plans to ignore this lack of competition — and strip away consumer protections in the space — Roku should be worried. If you’ve spent any time watching the behavior of companies like Comcast as they grow larger and less accountable, you should be worried as well.