Net Neutrality Activism on the Rise As FCC Approaches Vote on Title II

Washington, D.C., is experiencing rush hour on the neutral/non-neutral (depending on your viewpoint) information highway. The catalyst: the Federal Communications Commission’s imminent vote on the Republican majority’s proposal to roll back Title II regulations on broadband and whether prohibitions on blocking, throttling or paid prioritization are needed at all.

Flashpoints include calls for resistance from John Oliver, host of HBO’s Last Week Tonight, and Democratic FCC member Mignon Clyburn; an alleged distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack on the FCC’s website and new survey data from cable’s top trade group.

Here are highlights:

NCTA-The Internet & Television Association and Morning Consult released a poll that found 78% of respondents favored either light-touch internet regulation (53%) or no government internet regulation at all (25%). Asked if they supported the net neutrality rules of no blocking, throttling or prioritization of certain content (it did not say “paid prioritization”), a majority (61%) either strongly supported those rules (24%) or somewhat supported them (37%).

• Oliver, a fan of the 2015 Open Internet Order, took aim at FCC chairman Ajit Pai and his planned Title II rollback. He mocked Pai’s oversize Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups mug, which the chair plugged at an open meeting and — as he did in 2014, when he went after Pai predecessor Tom Wheeler — likened the Internet trolls he was whipping up to the flying monkeys in The Wizard of Oz. (This time around, The Wire would call them flying “Reese’s monkeys.”)

• The FCC claimed it had suffered a DDoS attack at about the same time that Oliver made his call for comments, leading various groups — and a few congressional Democrats — to seek proof that it was indeed an attack and not the FCC’s inability to handle a flood of comments.

• There was indeed a flood of comments to the FCC. At press time, almost a half million comments had been posted to the Restoring Internet Freedom docket (Pai’s branding of the effort to roll back Title II and reconsider the Open Internet rules), compared with only about 30,000 the week before. A lot of them were anti-Title II, and many appeared to be form complaints, something that had the activists crying foul and “bot.”

• Clyburn did not call those commenters minions but, in a Los Angeles speech to a Title II-friendly crowd, she called on them to help stop the FCC from “dismantling” an open internet.

“Are you willing to stand up, demand from us, and join forces with those who are willing to fight?” she asked. “Then let’s do this … Keep those voices for internet freedom raised and let’s lay out a plan on how best to go forward, starting now.”

Clyburn has the power to block the vote temporarily by not showing up for the FCC’s May 18 public meeting, which would deny the quorum needed for a vote. Her office has declined to say if she will exercise that regulatory “nuclear option.”

Cueing Up The Queue

Quick suggestion to the Altice USA people the next time you decide to hold an impromptu call with reporters: Think about implement ing a question queue.

The Wire was pleased to be included in what we think was the first reporters’ call ahead of earnings for Altice USA parent Altice Group and hopes to be included in future telephonic get-togethers.

But on the Altice reporter call, after brief comments from Altice Group CEO Michel Combes, chief financial officer Dennis Okhuijsen and Altice USA CEO Dexter Goei, a literal shouting match ensued, as reporters tried to ask questions and executives tried to figure out who was asking them.

At one point, a member of the French press on the call asked why everyone was speaking English. “Are we only French people talking English together?” she asked. Combes replied he had at least two non-French executives on the call — Goei and Okhuijsen — but that he would be happy to speak French next time as well.

The Wire got in a shouted question at the end — sometimes growing up the youngest in a large family has its advantages — which Goei answered patiently and thoroughly. We weren’t sure if others on the call were as lucky.
— Mike Farrell

Spectrum Touts Its Local Reach While Cutting Some Sports Nets From Roster

Spectrum Reach, the ad-sales arm of Charter Communications, had its first IAB New- Fronts show-and-tell on May 5, touting its advertising solutions and showing off local programming talent carried over from Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks, the cable providers Charter took over in 2016.

Anchors from Spectrum NY1 News in New York City (including Pat Kiernan), News 13 in Orlando, Fla. (Ybeth Bruzual), and from Spectrum SportsNet in Los Angeles (former Lakers star James Worthy) were on stage at the Edison Ballroom in New York. Worthy plugged Spectrum’s 30-plus local news and sports channels.

As of May 4, though, that roster was minus a couple of former players on the local sports network side, as Charter has closed down Spectrum Sports channels in Texas and in North and South Carolina, the cable operator confirmed. “We will allocate those resources to strengthen our local news operations in Austin, San Antonio and the Carolinas,” it said in a statement. “We also plan to increase news coverage and shows around local sports.”

The Wire hears Spectrum also won’t renew a prior TWC pact (struck in 2014) with the NFL’s Carolina Panthers for ancillary programming about the team, though a person familiar with the situation said that might not be accurate and that news on that front could happen soon. A Panthers team spokesman did not return a call seeking comment by press time.

Spectrum also said it’s “combining” Spectrum Sports channels with Spectrum News operations in upstate New York, though it’s committed to covering Syracuse University athletics on the Spectrum News channel in Syracuse.

No news channels are affected by the moves, Charter said. Charter recently made headlines in New York by letting go several longtime on-air personalities at NY1 to shift resources to more news and investigative coverage. Charter puts the current local network count at 19 news channels, 10 sports networks and three regional sports networks in California, including Spanish-language Spectrum Deportes.
— Kent Gibbons

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.