John Oliver knows you’re probably not that angry about net neutrality, and he’d like to change that.
On Sunday night, Oliver used the bully pulpit of his HBO series “Last Week Tonight” to rail against telecommunications giants like Verizon and Comcast who are lobbying to put an end to net neutrality. The comedian admitted that the issue of net neutrality is not, at least on the surface, a very sexy one. As he joked, “The only two words that promise more boredom in the English language are ‘featuring Sting.’ ”
Despite being about as exciting as a pair of Dockers, Oliver argued that net neutrality is “hugely important” because “it means that all data has to be treated equally no matter who created it,” allowing start-ups like Facebook to supplant established companies.
If deep-pocketed telecom companies get their way, a new tiered system would be imposed that would, as Oliver put it, allow them to " buy their way into the fast lane, leaving everyone else in the slow lane.” As a cautionary tale, he shared a graph of Netflix’s download speeds during recent negotiations with Comcast. The speed surged in February, when Netflix agreed to Comcast’s demands. “That has all the ingredients of a mob shakedown,” Oliver said.
The effort to end net neutrality is so “egregious” that it’s led to an unlikely alliance between “anti-corporate hippies” and tech behemoths Google, Facebook and Amazon. Given such widespread support for net neutrality, how can it possibly be under threat? The real problem, Oliver continued, is that telecom companies "have Washington in their pockets to an almost unbelievable degree.”
Case in point: President Obama’s appointment of former cable industry lobbyist Tom Wheeler as chair of the Federal Communications Commission. “The guy who used to run the cable industry’s lobbying arm is now running the agency tasked with regulating it,” Oliver said. “That is the equivalent of needing a babysitter and hiring a dingo.”
Likening cable companies to drug cartels, Oliver was skeptical of claims that they will continue to honor net neutrality. “Let me remind you: They also say they’ll be at your house between 2 and 6 tomorrow afternoon.”
But the greatest threat facing net neutrality, he argued, might not be entrenched corporate interests in D.C. but rather the superficial unsexiness of the issue itself (cue mind-numbing C-SPAN footage of a net neutrality hearing). "The cable companies have figured out the great truth of America: If you want to do something evil, put it inside something boring.”