Say it ain't so, Mark

Mark Cuban on net neutrality: Fear the FCC, not Comcast

If you like tech and you like sports, it’s hard not to like Mark Cuban: the straight-shooting Dallas Mavericks owner wins championships, builds companies and fights patent trolls all while maintaining a down-to-earth attitude with fans and the public. That’s why it’s so disappointing to hear his views on net neutrality.

Speaking at a BusinessInsider eventin New York, Cuban doubled down on a recent Twitter rant in which he likened the FCC’s proposed broadband regulation to some sort of socialist dystopia.

“We’re seeing competition, but everyone is like ‘the big ISPs are going to fuck everyone,'” said Cuban, who argued on Monday that the public is better off waiting for competition between broadband providers than running the risks of regulation.

The profane billionaire pointed to the FCC’s reaction to the Janet Jackson nipple-slip incident to argue the agency is inherently political, and will ultimately screw up forbearance or whatever pro-consumer mandate it tries to impose.

In Cuban’s view, the widespread fears that ISPs like Comcast will squeeze small websites are illusory, while the outlook for fast internet is better than we think. Cuban assured the audience that, years from now, we’ll all be awash in 8-gigabit internet and so we can rest easy.

Cuban pointed to Google’s new Fiber service in Austin, and AT&T’s proposed wireless broadband services to suggest that internet competition is alive and well. He also dismissed concerns about Verizon and other ISPs throttling Netflix unless they paid a toll as irrelevant to the net neutrality debate.

While acknowledging that there’s “not enough competition,” Cuban suggested the problem will solve itself as more companies rush in to offer more internet options.

If only this were true. As one perspicacious questioner pointed out, Google Fiber and AT&T’s services cover only a minuscule part of land, and there’s no indication they will be spreading anytime soon. Meanwhile, the situation is likely to get worse as Comcast is poised to entrench its monopoly position in many markets by swallowing its largest rival, Time Warner Cable.

Advocates for internet competition can only hope that Cuban will follow his Mavericks on the road to cities like Brooklyn, where there’s precisely one broadband provider — and consumers have no hope of switching, no matter how bad the service gets.

28 Responses to “Mark Cuban on net neutrality: Fear the FCC, not Comcast”

  1. “Many people want the government to protect the consumer. A much more urgent problem is to protect the consumer from the government.”
    – Milton Friedman

    “A major source of objection to a free economy is precisely that it gives people what they want instead of what a particular group thinks they ought to want. Underlying most arguments against the free market is a lack of belief in freedom itself.”
    ~ Milton Friedman

  2. Is there only one broadband provider in Brooklyn (per the author’s closing statement) due to municipal regulation/franchise agreements authorizing only one provider or due to collusion by the incumbent with other, prospective providers? I suspect the former but do not know for sure.

    I am skeptical of more government oversight of anything. Those who want more government likely don’t like the DMV but I find that to be a great example of government oversight and “service”. I have not found the ideal of the “benevolent public servant” to be very common in practice. Laziness and incompetence are more common in my experience than is brilliance.

  3. Wow this is the first time I’ve seen astroturfing on Gigaom.

    Net neutrality has been the status quo that led to the Internet we have today. It was changed due to a legal case a few years ago. The people just want it to stay the way it has been. The cables cos sued because they don’t… they want to double charge for their network and leverage their monopolies. They could’ve left it how it was.

    It’s pretty straightforward to the unpaid commenters.

  4. Dear John,

    What part of Consumer Choice don’t you understand? The fact that Comcast and TWC don’t compete for the same customers IS the problem.

    As far as ‘deep insight’… When Cable TV rolled-out across America they promised “Universal Access”, in exchange for use of the public easeways -to string the cable.

    Where is Universal Access today? Its Dead. Its been dead for decades, despite being in Cable Franchise Agreements. The Cable industry never delivered.

    ‘Universal Access’ was the ‘Trojan Horse’ gift that got cable co’s into communities as monopolies.

    ‘Net Neutrality’ is the ‘Universal Access’ issue of the 21st Century.

  5. Jim Cain

    The greatest value of the Internet–arguably its one true value–is information, not entertainment. The consequences to our entertainment shouldn’t even be part of the discussion. The consequences to freedom of information should be the ONLY discussion. Bringing the government into it puts the latter at risk. What happens to the former is irrelevant in the big picture.

  6. Dear Mr. Roberts,
    Please hate cable companies for the right reasons, this isn’t one of them:
    “Meanwhile, the situation is likely to get worse as Comcast is poised to entrench its monopoly position in many markets by swallowing its largest rival, Time Warner Cable.”

    Comcast and TWC don’t compete – they have separate and unique customers since their systems don’t overlap. Its like saying “GigaOm is staffed by rank amateurs, why read their articles?”.

    Industry pundits should add value to the discussion by providing deep insight, not fear mongering with incorrect facts. Leave that to CNN and Fox News!

  7. Crandall

    Is this a news article or an opinion piece? Cuban’s position on NN is “disappointing”, while one of the questioners of Cuban who disagreed was “perspicacious” (e.g. “having a ready insight into and understanding of things.”

    Also, who wrote this piece? There is no author associated with this at all meaning your readers can’t check his/her credentials to see for themselves if there are any implicit or explicit biases.

    Bottom line: This is not even thinly disguised propaganda. GigaOm can do better than this.

  8. Wow, insert epic eye-roll at the comments so far. These articles really do bring out the ISP shills. They must be well paid for their astroturfing.

    ISPs have clear, vested, and demonstrated *incentives* in acting against consumer interest, whenever there is greater profits in doing so. Regulatory bodies simply don’t have *incentives* to act against consumer interest. That isn’t to say that both actors can’t misbehave, but *incentives to behave badly* make the two radically different.

    ISPs have overwhelming local monopolies; buy off state politicians to maintain said monopolies; offer comparatively pathetic and overpriced service; are overwhelmingly hated by consumers; have horizontally integrated so are now more broadly incentivized towards anti-competitive behavior; owe their current success to past regulation; over-promise and under-deliver (both to the consumer and to regulators); and generally have a unambiguously terrible track record of acting against the public good whenever there are more profits to be had by doing so than not.

    Anyone with a rudimentary understanding of the ISP’s track record, business model or some simple common sense can see how leaving them with unfettered control over how the internet is filtered/controlled/delivered in the last mile has rapidly become ludicrous.

    The revolving door of the US regulatory system fosters an atmosphere of near collusion with industry. The notion that reclassification under title 2 will result in the FCC making major problems for new and established business is laughably preposterous.

    • “Anyone with a rudimentary understanding of the ISP’s track record, business model or some simple common sense can see how leaving them with unfettered control over how the internet is filtered/controlled/delivered in the last mile has rapidly become ludicrous.”

      I think I have that rudimentary understanding, being a software developer. I don’t agree with the rest. Government regulation will provide the government the same incentive to control/filter the last mile – as happens in most other countries where government has been granted greater regulatory control.

      I’d like to think that Jack C. has never lived or owned property or spent significant time in a country with routine censorship of the internet as I have and therefore with the benefit of experience would be more critical of the government risk.

      “The revolving door of the US regulatory system fosters an atmosphere of near collusion with industry.”

      Which is why I don’t believe in more regulations. It just involves more collusion.

      “ISPs have overwhelming local monopolies; buy off state politicians to maintain said monopolies”

      And will do the same at the federal level too.

      “offer comparatively pathetic and overpriced service; are overwhelmingly hated by consumers; have horizontally integrated so are now more broadly incentivized towards anti-competitive behavior; owe their current success to past regulation; over-promise and under-deliver (both to the consumer and to regulators); and generally have a unambiguously terrible track record of acting against the public good whenever there are more profits to be had by doing so than not.”

      I think its overpriced, and I’m not a super happy Comcast customer. But its a darn good connection, much better than I had 10 years ago, but I will buy a better one if it comes along and offers it, especially at a lower price. Government regulation will discourage competition, not encourage it. It always does, though.

      If its so profitable as a business, and consumers so outraged, why doesn’t Jack C. start up a competing cable company focused on overturning local monopolies? Sounds like a great opportunity.

      “These articles really do bring out the ISP shills. They must be well paid for their astroturfing.”

      Projection, maybe? Eh, never worked for a telecom company, don’t work in the industry, don’t work for the government, lobbyist, in politics, a competitor. I don’t even work in high tech.

      I just don’t get why high tech folks who love Uber, Airbnb and everything else that is disruptive to markets in the tech world falls down all over themselves to defend ISP regulation.

      I do get why the big government, censoring types, lobbyists and shills do.

      I will let Jack C. declare where he stands. If he chooses to, and chooses to do so honestly.

      • Thanks! I literally laughed out loud when I read, “I will let Jack C. declare where he stands. If he chooses to, and chooses to do so honestly.”

        You know, if this were Fark, that last bit would be a dead giveaway, but I sort of don’t think you are trolling ( if you are, I tip my hat to you).

        I suppose it’s too cynical (or maybe too generous) to suppose yours is a strand of astroturfing that blitzes legit consumer perspective with gibberish to confuse other readers. On second glance, it almost reads like it was posted by a bot.

    • dberninger

      Jack C

      Your description of the *problem* does not address the merits of the Title II as *solution*.

      It is as important to assess what you are running toward as what you are running from.

      There exists an 80 year track record regarding the merits and implications of Title II regulation.

      Dan

    • “Regulatory bodies simply don’t have *incentives* to act against consumer interest.”—U just back from the dark side of the moon-?

      ALL regulatory powers are POLITICAL—-$$$$-TALK—Back to the moon dog

  9. We should NOT give the FCC regulatory authority over the Internet. The government is forever asking for more authority so they can GIVE you what you want. But, as soon as they have the authority, they proceed to TELL you what you should want. Their political talent is deception. Their goal is to aquire control, not to serve the interests of the individual.

    Their will be some bumps along the way. But over time, a free marketplace always adjusts to better meet the needs of their potential customers. If one company won’t, than another company will in their place. Government regulation only disrupts the natural process and distorts the market away from what people want. The regulators become the gatekeepers and will decide what people get and who will get it. Innovation slows, quality goes down, and costs go up Over time, free markets do a much better job of searving the interests of the people.

    • Except when natural monopolies arise. Government regulation is arguably almost always the least preferred option, but there are rare times and places it actually protects consumers and fosters free markets that have otherwise broken.

  10. We should NOT give the FCC regulatory authority over the Internet. The government is forever asking for more authority so they can GIVE you what you want. But, as soon as they have the authority, they preceed to TELL you what you should want. Their political talent is deception. Their goal is to aquire control, not to serve the interests of the individual.

    Their will be some bumps along the way. But over time, a free marketplace always adjusts to better meet the needs of their potential customers. If one company won’t, than another company will in their place. Government regulation only disrupts the natural process and distorts the market away from what people want. The regulators become the gatekeepers and will decide what people get and who will get it. Innovation slows, quality goes down, and costs go up Over time, free markets do a much better job of searving the interests of the people.

  11. Cuban admits the lack of competition, yet fails to connect its absence produced the current state of ISP dystopia -which drives the Net Neutrality issue. And, it is a bit disingenuous for folks sitting high on the bandwidth hog to tell those with no, or less fortunate, options to ‘wait’ for competition… because it will be better than what the FCC does.

    What a crook of crap. How can it possibly get worse than not having any choice? And, as slow as service is… the only way it could get worse is if they went back to dial-up.

    The vapid anti-gov echo-chamber is just another way of saying… we don’t want a level, competitive, playing field. Consumers should be under our biz thumb for their own good.

    Truth is, “State sponsored” web operations are making fools of ISPs and corporations. Most of the time they do not even realize they’re being hacked until the gov informs them.

    Bottom line, Gov is needed to build, and secure, a national fiber-interstate. The role for ISPs is as ‘connector-carriers’… from web ‘taxi’ to ‘jet’ services. Its not one OR the other… Biz v Gov… its all of us working together… because All of us own the web.

    • ah yes socialism for the rich, capitalism for the poor. The government needs to simply get out of the way, not pick winners (or losers…like Solyndra) and let the marketplace for broadband develop on its own. the millions in grants from the government to build out rural broadband are never enough …MOAR MOAR MOAR because we are smarter than the marketplace.

  12. And Mark Cuban is spot on. Why you tech blogs are so head in the sand-ish about this issue is bizarre.

    Big government is the solution to everything. More taxes. More regulation. Quick! Put it in place before there have been any abuses the current regulatory and legal structure can’t and hadn’t already dealt with.

    Conspiracy theories abound.

    And Mark Cuban is wrong because he doesn’t agree with you. Go figure. Success and history is on his side here…

    • It’s not so hard to figure out why content providers like GigaOm would parrot the content provider point of view. Of course, they would love to see their own operating costs go down, even if it means consumer access fees go up. It is disturbing to see how eagerly their readers lap it up.

  13. What’s disappointing is the number of tech sites that built their coverage on the free market successof technology that advocate for more government regulation of the Internet.

    Cuban is right. The Internet is not a utility, and if it operated in as stodgy a way as a government regulated utility we would all be worse off for it.

    http://techliberation.com/2012/05/09/more-on-net-neutrality-the-importance-of-business-model-experimentation-pricing-flexibility/

    http://techliberation.com/2013/07/19/ppi-net-neutrality-problems-simply-do-not-exist/

    http://techliberation.com/2013/11/15/yes-net-neutrality-is-a-dead-man-walking-we-already-have-a-fast-lane/

    http://techliberation.com/2014/03/26/the-end-of-net-neutrality-and-the-future-of-tv/

    Increasing the government regulations that got us local monopolies to begin with will only amplify the risks of regulatory capture, ossification of providers, and reduction of innovation.

    Further, the real goal of many net neutrality champions who use techies as dupes is to control the content over the Internet via government regulation once the Net is more tightly regulated.

    Time and again other countries prove that a government that regulates the net takes an overbearing and usually censoring role on the Net once the regulatory foundation is in place. Fools ignore this history – and Mark Cuban – at their own peril.

    • They usually cherry pick “greenfield” developments. I’ve recently solicited proposals from both CL and Comcast In CO and the construction cost is prohibitive. About $3k per household. Have to wonder whose payroll you are on.

  14. dberninger

    “Fear the FCC, Not Comcast” captures the reality perfectly.

    I wrote several columns for GigaOM (search for Berninger) on net neutrality as a conflict of interest between the operator control of the telephone networks and IP networks. The issue was resolved by the demise of the telephone network and the migration of all communication to IP networks.

    The anxieties currently driving the net neutrality debate persist in spite of an entirely transformed environment and, ironically, trace to the bad ole days of Title II regulation.

    Under Title II the FCC is boss and the operators need pay to pay no attention to end users. This tends to piss off customers and accounts for mistrust of network operators.

    The herd instinct around Title II as a solution to net neutrality anxiety overcomes the facts on the ground.

    The world of connectivity expanded by 1 million between 100 baud modems the early 80’s to 100 Mbs today at precisely the Moore’s Law doubling every 18 months.

    The FCC’s contribution to this expansion of connectivity was to stay out of the way – by leaving IP networks defined as information services.

    The effect of a world with FCC intervention is easy to observe in the course of the PSTN since the arrive of the FCC in 1934.

    The value proposition of the PSTN for end users did not change for decades thanks to Title II.

    Imposing Title II on IP networks will yield the same result.

    • Exactly. Any broadband commenter who isn’t aware that close to a quarter of American home are already reached by fiber and major fiber projects are underway in some 200 cities and towns could say something so factually-challenged. By the same token, characterizing TWC and Comcast as “rivals” when they’ve never competed in the same markets is simply bizarre.

      News is whatever draws the clicks, true or false.