Smaller cable firms take aim at Net neutrality fans

They say the Googles of the world shouldn't expect a free ride and the government should stay out of the picture.

Anne Broache Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Anne Broache
covers Capitol Hill goings-on and technology policy from Washington, D.C.
Anne Broache
2 min read
WASHINGTON--Young, wealthy Internet companies like Google shouldn't expect to get "special favors" from network operators that have sunk billions of dollars into fiber investments, the head of a smaller cable company said Monday.

Rocco Commisso, CEO of New York-based Mediacom Communications, delivered the latest commentary in the ongoing Net neutrality fray at an annual Washington, D.C., summit organized by the American Cable Association, a lobbying group for small and medium-size independent cable companies. Mediacom, which bills itself as the nation's eighth-largest cable television provider, counts 1.5 million basic-cable subscribers across 23 states, according to its Web site.

"I think what the phone industry's saying and what we're saying is we've made an investment, and I don't think the government should be coming and telling us how we can work that infrastructure, simple as that," Commisso said during a panel discussion about issues faced by companies like his, adding, "Why don't they go and tell the oil companies what they should charge for their damn gas?"

The remarks indicated it's not only the nation's largest broadband players, both in the cable and the telecommunications sectors, that have voiced public opposition to what they refer to as unprecedented governmental regulation of the Internet. They've said repeatedly that without evidence of a problem, there's no need for new laws.

Net neutrality, also called network neutrality, is the philosophy that network operators should not be allowed to prioritize content and services--particularly video--that come across their pipes. Proponents have launched a campaign to enact detailed regulations barring such practices, and so far they've won over some congressional Democrats.

Network operators counter that they deserve the right to charge premium fees to bandwidth hogs in order to offset their vast investments in infrastructure and to ensure the quality and security of their products. Mediacom has made $1.7 billion in capital investments over the past decade, according to Commisso.

"It's incredible that a company like Google that's got market capitalization bigger than the combined value of the cable business....these guys just started five, 10 years ago, and they're asking for special favors already," Commisso said.

His statement conjured up earlier admissions by telecommunications power players, including one Verizon executive who cautioned that Google should not be entitled to a "free lunch."

Net neutrality advocates--which include Google, Microsoft, Amazon.com and a medley of mostly left-leaning consumer groups--argue that such a business model would lead to increased costs for Web surfers and would assault the Internet's historically open architecture.

Their rallying cry--and their very selection of the term "Net neutrality"--is nothing more than a "very, very clever D.C. campaign," charged Tom Might, CEO of Arizona-based Cable One, which has customers in 19 states with large rural populations. Politicians, he suggested, "don't know what it is, but they're afraid to be against Net neutrality because it sounds so wonderful, like Mom and apple pie."