Top Cable Lobbyist Just Doesn’t See Why You Hate Your Cable Company When Google, Facebook Are Big Too

The NCTA is big cable’s big lobbying group. Right now, they’re trying their hardest to make sure the FCC can’t protect consumers and businesses from the largest ISPs with a lawsuit trying to block the FCC’s net neutrality rule. At the organization’s head head is former FCC chairman Michael Powell, who loves terrible internet speeds and data caps for all.

The folks over at Fierce Cable got to sit down with Powell and ask him specifically about NCTA member companies’ opposition to net neutrality and the current state of the industry. Powell’s answers, while mostly full of exactly the vapid, vague pablum one expects from a top lobbyist, were illuminating in one specific way: they show that the industry really is as far removed from understanding what ordinary consumers want as consumers feel like it is.

Predictably, Powell does not have kind words for the new Open Internet rule. As a mouthpiece for the cable industry, he reiterates the talking points that the ISPs have been making all along: that changing the rules of regulation now will somehow completely prevent anyone from continuing to invest in or innovate with their networks. (Despite reality proving otherwise.)

“This country, 20 years ago at the birth of the commercial Internet, made a very concerted national commitment to have policy where innovators, entrepreneurs and engineers could operate in the free market,” Powell told Fierce Cable, conveniently ignoring the fact that regulation — and specifically, Title II of the Telecommunications Act — made it possible for AOL and other early dial-up internet players to gain access to customers through copper phone lines, and thrive.

And if the current setup, in which cable companies are making money hand over fist being monopoly providers to broadband subscribers who need the internet to do basically every single thing in their lives, is so bad… how did we get here, anyway?

“There’s probably a book we could write on this,” Powell told Fierce Cable, which is hands down the most indisputably 100% true thing in the interview. But he and we would probably write very different books. To hear Powell tell the tale, the entire drive for net neutrality was invented from whole cloth by pro-consumer advocates (he specifically calls out Free Press). Powell then dismisses the entire drive as anti-corporate sentiment for its own inexplicable sake, saying, “This is nothing but big-company bashing — the idea that cable is full of these evil corporate entities who are thinking of ways to screw you over. I think that got a lot of public traction, and I think it became partisan.”

To Powell, Washington’s current game of hyper-partisan politics, and not the fact that the nation’s largest ISPs are in fact constantly screwing customers over, is the core issue. Consumers, however, may feel otherwise — and Fierce Cable asked Powell why he thinks that is.

“The cable industry is made up of a lot of mid-sized and smaller companies, many of them with good customer relations,” Powell hedged, in order to avoid mentioning that the two biggest companies in the cable industry have the worst customer satisfaction ratings in the entire nation. Instead, he turns to an indisputably successful and generally well-regarded tech company, Google.

Powell ignores the fact that Google, through Google Fiber, is in fact a direct competitor to cable companies and instead focuses on their software businesses: “Unlike Google, we have to send you a bill–a bill to pay for the broadband infrastructure that Google and others profit handsomely from, but don’t support directly,” Powell says. “Yes, they have ways they support the network, too, but they don’t have to directly bill their customer for tripling and quadrupling speeds.”

Powell does correctly identify that with Google and Facebook, users don’t pay because users are the product, and advertisers pay for access. “A lot of those fantastic companies that don’t have to bill you may be selling your identity up, down and sideways, which we may come to regret,” he told Fierce Cable. “But Google has an 80 percent approval rating.”

While data brokering and privacy are indeed major issues for the modern consumer, they have basically nothing to do with the fact that you can’t get someone to answer your question about your broadband bill without recording the call and spending a day working on it.

Consumers like Google (and Amazon and Facebook, about which Powell also complains) because, despite the real issues, Google’s products usually work. And Google might control 90% of the search market, as Powell claims in the interview, but they don’t use monopolistic, strong-arm tactics on every single consumer to make it happen. Thanks to net neutrality, you can use your Comcast connection to go to Google, Yahoo, Bing, or any other site that suits your whims — but you still have to funnel them all through Comcast.

When consumers have no choice but to work with the people who actively seem contemptuous of them and their time, well, those customers get unhappy. That doesn’t seem like rocket science, but the industry won’t be any better regarded until they figure it out.

NCTA chief Powell on ‘unnecessary’ net neutrality regs, and Google’s unearned popularity [Fierce Cable]