In honor of today’s big win for net neutrality and cute cat video-watchers everywhere, we want to doff our cap to the man who helped shame Federal Communications Commission chairman Tom Wheeler into doing the right thing:
John Oliver, eponymous host of HBO’s blessedly influential Last Week Tonight With John Oliver.
Before being appointed to chair the FCC in 2013 by President Barack Obama, Wheeler was a flak lobbyist for the cable and wireless industry. So it’s no wonder he was such a vocal and potentially decisive hold-out on the whole, “Does the World Wide Web belong to everyone?” question.
Or, as Oliver framed Wheeler’s appointment in his scathingly accurate distillation, “That is the equivalent of needing a babysitter and hiring a dingo.”
So no surprise then that Wheeler long favored a two-tiered system that would allow huge internet service providers like Comcast, Verizon, Time Warner Cable and other broadband oligarchs to extort tech companies that want to send their customers online content at acceptable speeds.
Those that didn’t want to cough up these “premiums” would be sent back in time to the DSL days, when you could finish a load of laundry while waiting for that Joey Lawrence hair pic to download.
Even worse, this system would weed out innovative start-ups, including whatever the next iteration of Netflix is.
As of right now, the internet operates more or less as a social Darwinist meritocracy, where good ideas devour the bad. But the monopoly-minded cable industry didn’t want to keep peering over its shoulder at the next young turk, and had Wheeler in their pocket to accommodate.
Until Oliver called on online commenters—or “monsters,” as he says—to make themselves heard.
Today’s 3-2 FCC vote, which still has to survive a likely court challenge, represents a huge win for the not-so-silent majority over monied and well-connected interests.
(And maybe it also sets a scary precedent for listening to online comments—but let’s focus on the good, shall we?)