John Oliver compares cable companies to drug cartels

In a blistering 13-minute disquisition on Net neutrality, the HBO comedian asks Web trolls to intervene.

Chris Matyszczyk
3 min read

He's worried his new startup won't be able to compete. "Last Week Tonight With John Oliver"/YouTube screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

Anger has its place.

Generally, though, human expressions of it tend toward the ugly. This is why humor was invented.

If you can get mad about something and have people laughing, your point just might be received in the way you intended.

HBO's John Oliver has already shown himself a master of this. Being British helps, as that nation has often brilliantly expressed its pent-up frustrations through humor.

Last night, however, he turned his anger -- 13 whole minutes of it -- onto something that not everyone quite grasps: Net neutrality.

"The only two words that promise more boredom in the English language are 'Featuring Sting,'" said Oliver.

Oliver worries that if there's a two-tier, two-speed Internet, then his new startup, Nutflix (you'll never guess what this entails), won't be able to compete.

He also described Comcast's negotiations with Netflix as a shakedown.

He said it was so bad that "activists and corporations have been forced onto the same side." That never ends well.

Worse, "the guy who used to run the cable industry's lobbying arm is now running the agency tasked with regulating it." This would be Tom Wheeler.

"That's the equivalent of needing a babysitter and hiring a dingo," he said.

As for the cable companies: "It's almost as if they've agreed to stay out of each other's way like drug cartels."

He added: "Maybe it's because of their lack of competition that they get away with such shitty service."

Now there are those who don't agree that the demolition of Net neutrality will be such a terrible thing for real people. My colleague Marguerite Reardon describes it as "not nearly as scary as the headlines might suggest."

But the mere idea that during times of network congestion some data will be given priority over others will surely cause vast ripples of discontent when e-mails aren't received quickly, or Web sites load more slowly.

Currently, our download speeds are beneath those of Estonia. What if, at times, these became ever slower than those in Eastern Siberia?

At heart, Oliver believes that Comcast, Time Warner, and the rest will lobby and bore their way to success. "Bore" in every meaning of the word.

"If you want to do something evil, put it inside something boring," he said, while playing tedious footage of hearings on the subject.

This isn't protecting Net neutrality, you see. For Oliver, it's "preventing cable company f***ery."

There are 120 days remaining for real people to have their say. So Oliver appealed to the one power that lurks daily on the Web, waiting for its moment. Yes, Web trolls.

These loud, intemperate Internet commenters may be all that stands between an ideal and another corporate takeover.

He wants them to channel all the anger they normally reserve for actresses who they think have put on weight and politicians with whom they disagree. He wants them to fill the FCC's comments Web site with everything they have.

Naturally, this will do no good whatsoever.

Whatever your stance on Net neutrality, there are certain neutral truths that ought to be borne in mind.

It's rare for corporations to make promises before they want something and keep them after they've got it.

It's also rare for real people to do anything about something that seems a little dull, until after they see how it's affecting them.