Jessica Williams, jazz pianist, composer

Thoughts on “Net Neutrality” From Down Here in the Coal Mine – Guest Post Maria Schneider

Maria Schneider is a 5-time GRAMMY-winning composer/bandleader in jazz, classical and for her work with David Bowie. An outspoken advocate for the rights of musicians, she has testified before Congress, and teaches and performs throughout the world. 

When Google really really wants something, it’s a marvel to watch how it hides its own greedy motives, while using surrogate groups, political polarization, and their own power over information networks to whip up a national outcry – all as Google feigns concern for the “public good.” Google has now orchestrated just such a public outcry over the vague phrase “net neutrality.” It’s a phrase that has most of us, including John Oliver (see John Oliver’s piece), biting hook, line, and sinker. I smell something rotten.  As musicians, we’re the canaries in the proverbial coal mine. We’ve long been taken on this ride by the world’s biggest data lord, and we’ve developed a keen nose. We’ve been coughing up blood down in this damn mine for too long to not take notice when new wafts of rotten stench make their way down here – especially when we look up the dark shaft and see rainbows spelling the word “Google” beneath radiant blue skies.

So I figured it was time to dig into this phrase “net neutrality” and see what it’s all about. And sure enough, as I’ll explain below, this appears as just another typical Google scam where they systematically create mass hysteria that the little guy is going to somehow be hosed. I’m afraid to say, the public is being duped.

Here’s some of what I’ve found:

1) This whole thing was set up by and for Google.  The current posture of “net neutrality” having its home in the FCC, has its origins in 2007, when Google, quite remarkably, essentially bribed the FCC to include certain “net neutrality” conditions into an FCC auction of huge swaths of broadband capability.  Eric Schmidt guaranteed the FCC they’d submit a bid of 4.6 billion, on the condition that the FCC include certain “net neutrality” conditions in the purchase/sale of those rights. That sent Comcast and Verizon into apoplectic shock, and as for Google? Google actually had no intention of actually winning the auction.  The FCC bit on the poisonous apple hung in front of them by Google.

2) The Director of the FCC who gave the green light to this scheme was a Dick Cheney colleague named Kevin Martin, who Congress investigated for misconduct and poor leadership. The title of this downloadable 110-page Congressional Report, “Deception and Distrust: The FCC Under Chairman Kevin Martin” pretty much tells you all you need to know. Sounds like the perfect guy for Google to hitch its wagon to. So no surprise then that Martin agreed to bite on Eric Schmidt’s dirty little poisonous apple. And that “bite” set all of this into motion. (I love you, John Oliver, but sadly these shady beginnings, along with all that then ensued, never made its way to your desk.) Read the cliff notes in this article.

3) As a result, Verizon ended up bidding, and paying billions, for broadband rights that were crafted by Google.  Google had to make a down payment of over a 1/4 billion dollars to “play” that card at the FCC, but Google got it all back, other than the interest on that money, which was estimated to be about 13 million.  So, for the paltry sum of 13 million, Google completely undermined the entire internet regulatory landscape. Well played “Lord” Schmidt.

4) After that, there were a few federal court cases that concluded the FCC didn’t truly have this sort of authority at all, forcing the FCC to spit out its bite of poisonous apple. Finally, a judge naively suggested that in order to have such authority, companies like Verizon would need to be classified by the FCC as “common carriers,” just like phone companies.  Of course, Google and its squad of flying monkeys loved this idea, but nobody seemed to think through the consequences.  So when the FCC implemented its 2015 Open Internet Order (the OIO) as a response to those court decisions, it was a half-baked “reactive” maneuver that would have the whole agency chasing its own tail down a black hole dug by Google.

5) But that’s only part of the story. The elephant in the room, that almost nobody mentions or maybe realizes, is the position of the “FTC” on this Open Internet Order reversal.  During the notice and comment period for the current FCC reversal, both the FTC director herself, Maureen Ohlhausen, (who seems to be an unassailable woman appointed by Obama), and all of her staff, separately submitted comments completely blasting the 2015 Open Internet Order.  Her comments in particular seem incredibly well researched and presented. She is our nation’s chief consumer watchdog, and her opinion is important. You can download her piece here.

All of the feigned panic Google and its flying monkeys have whipped up are addressed by the FTC Director in her comments.  The simple reality is that the architects of the 2015 OIO never expected such agency turmoil would result between the FCC & FTC.  However, a big federal case from California between AT&T and the FTC basically said that because of the OIO, the FTC is stripped of its powers.  And that’s a very unfortunate consequence of the OIO. Frankly, I’d rather have the FTC taking the lead in policing real-life bad ISP behavior.  It’s what they do (or what they did) and they’ve been a pretty good watch dog in the past. It seems the FTC stats on policing ISPs are impressive.  The FCC has never done that, it’s not in their DNA. And their ability to police is even very limited, unlike the FTC.  The power of the people is best reflected through the FTC, not the FCC.

6) A great point Director Ohlhausen (the Obama appointed FTC director) makes, is her analysis that what Google is pushing is a problem that does not really exist.  Her advocacy for an “ex-post” approach, as opposed to an “ex-ante” is excellent, and it’s been largely ignored by the media.  Many other scholars and internet experts also agree with this view as well. As one example, see this article from the Washington Post.

7) Here we start to see what victims we have all become of Google’s “fake news” –  the fake news Google and its flying monkeys (its well-paid surrogates like the EFF, FFTF, etc.) have spewed out over us like airborne war propaganda.  The truth actually seems to be this: the current contrived definition of “net neutrality” really means that ISPs are required to maintain, at their own expense (which is actually the consumer’s expense), a totally “open” set of highways, that are unobstructed by any natural market forces at all, so that Google can drive its fleet of Ferraris at high speeds, with absolutely no traffic rules.  It makes Verizon (and therefore us, who pay Verizon’s bills), Google’s bitch.  Those of us who use the internet for routine needs (e.g., basic news, government websites, job searching, and a video or movie here and there) end up subsidizing the high-end “luxury” uses of the internet (like heavy YouTube and PornHub use). It’s nonsensical.

8) What’s worse, Google is really just the pot calling the kettle black. Google is desperate to have Verizon declared as a “common carrier” so that Verizon is legally required to provide this open set of highways to all, at NO COST to Google. Google does so by scaring us ordinary folks, saying Verizon could somehow set up fast lanes, or other prioritizations, if they aren’t called “common carriers.” But the irony of this – and the hidden truth – is that Google does just that by building what are called “content delivery networks” or CDNs, that enable them to deliver content, at lightning speeds in collaboration with the ISPs. Talk about “fast lanes” – that is like Google having its own private HOV lanes on the open highway system for its own Ferraris.  How ironic it is that by 2011, Google was carrying 6.4% of ALL worldwide internet traffic on and through its own CDNs. That’s just astounding. Google is actually acting more like an ISP than the ISPs. Google is the behemoth data lord that owns us all. But somehow, we’re willing to vilify the cable company instead, and give Google a free pass. It’s like punishing the shipbuilders who build the pirate ships, while idolizing the pirates themselves. It’s ludicrous.

9) Let’s not forget what this is all about. Google isn’t here for the altruistic ideal of helping ordinary people. Google’s number one goal with “net neutrality” is to guarantee robust “pipes” are in place, so that we, the billions of YouTube and Google search users, can send all of our “user data” back to Google. It’s fair to say that they need the ISP pipes maybe more than we do. Companies like Google, Amazon, and Facebook, are only rich and powerful because we, collectively and stupidly, have agreed to send them (via the ISPs) all of our valuable data (our constant GPS locations, our buying and listening habits, our everyday needs and whims, our opinions, our political leanings, our personal information, medical information, our search history) – all of it and more, for free. Each of us has become a data-transmitting drone for Google and the like. And all of that data travels through Verizon’s (or the ISPs’) pipes.

So unlike the common carrier phone company, who does not “mine” our phone usage for monetization and advertising as its business model, Google is receiving trillions of data points a day from all of us, and is monetizing every last drop of it to the tune of billions in profit, while paying us nothing. It’s what they do to make money. And it’s the greatest money mill the world has ever known. What’s shocking is that no city or state or country has declared that this scheme is just a good old fashioned “barter.” All of the precious personal data Google sucks out of us through these ISP pipes is worth billions, and Google should be taxed on its receipt of that data, just like any other barter. Just like a water meter or electric meter, that data-flow from us to Google should be metered and Google should be charged. Instead, Amazon and Google are sucking retail jobs, retail sales and other infrastructure right out of our state and local economies, fueled by the free data we keep giving them 24/7. The IRS should be awash in cash from this “data for services” wealth transfer – and so should cities and states. Instead, Google parks that profit overseas, and hires scores of lobbyists in the U.S. to keep it that way.

10) The arguments that reversing the OIO will somehow hurt the little guy is an empty argument.  It ignores the reality that the FTC, for years, served an effective role in policing the ISPs on REAL issues raised by consumers and the public.  THAT job is in their DNA.  But the OIO had the unintended consequence of completely neutering the FTC when the FCC went chasing its tail, all because of Google and those who let themselves be lured by its poison apple.  All the while, the OIO pushes higher internet costs onto the average joe.  Google pays nothing extra for those infrastructure costs. Those costs are spread evenly across every grandmother and small business that does not take part in those luxury internet uses.  That’s why groups like the National Black Chamber of Commerce are dead set against the “net neutrality” pushed by Google. And that’s worth taking note.

11) Do I trust Verizon and Comcast not to discriminate against me? Not really, but I trust the FTC and Ms. Ohlhausen to do a good job policing them when “we the public” lodge valid complaints. The bigger question is, do I trust Google not to discriminate against me as a user, or as in my case, a musician?   “Definitely not,” I say pausing to cough up more blood down here.

Here’s just a short list of things Google already does to discriminate against me as a musician (things a common carrier should not be able to get away with):

a) they deny musicians like me access to their Content ID blocking program, to keep us from effectively dealing with piracy on their site with the help standard fingerprinting technology

b) they won’t allow musicians like me to steer YouTube traffic to our own crowd-funding sites anymore, like: ArtistShare, PledgeMusic or Patreon;

c) they don’t share any information with musicians about who listens to our music, despite the incredible value they siphon from illegal posting of our music, while paying us pennies

d) they allow users to upload our music, without asking those users even one single question about ownership or licensing rights

e) they encourage piracy through search and autocomplete, which helps Google profit from all traffic, regardless of its legality

This sooty old canary is raising her weary eyebrow down here in the coal mine yet again, as she sees Google trying to create public hysteria over the words “net neutrality” – as Google protects the slippery scheme it infiltrated into the FCC a decade ago.

If there’s a company out there with a monopoly grip most worth worrying about, it’s actually Google. If there’s a company that’s been treating the public unfairly, it’s Google. If there’s a company that has misused legal regulations and loopholes to line its pockets at our expense, it’s Google. If there’s a company that wields unprecedented power in steering public opinion, it’s Google. If there is a company that is willing to put profit ahead of ethics (even to the point of actually supporting child sex trafficking), it’s Google.

Verizon and Comcast might not be at the top of Santa’s list, but I know one thing for sure, Eric Schmidt and Google are getting big old lumps of coal.