Mark Cuban on net neutrality: FCC can’t protect competition

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As someone who takes her cues on net neutrality from Gigaom’s resident expert Stacey Higginbotham or, failing that, John Oliver, this is hard to admit: Mark Cuban may have a point on why the proposed net neutrality regulations may be a cure that’s worse than the disease.

If adopted, he maintained, these regs will open the door to more confusion, more litigation and more overall turmoil, none of which will serve consumers well. Before you throw your device at the wall, just give him a listen. Cuban, the serial entrepreneur who started out as a VAR before founding Broadcast.com which sold to [company]Yahoo[/company] in a $5.7 billion stock deal in 1999. He is now owner of the Dallas Mavericks, co-star of Shark Tank and CEO of of AXS TV  and interestingly a star of new AT&T commercials. The hyphens just keep coming.

Here’s his gist on net neutrality. He doesn’t think the big bad ISPs have behaved all that badly, or all that differently, than they ever have, so why all the hubbub now?

“It’s not like [company]AT&T[/company] and [company]Comcast[/company] have recently become super big companies and changed their actions… One of the tenets of net neutrality is that no legal website should be discriminated against. Well, name me one that has been.” He also pretty much dismisses [company]Netflix[/company] claims that it in fact faced such discrimination.

He sees competition ramping up in both in wired and wireless access — if these markets are so foreclosed why is Google doing broadband? Why is “AT&T going out of its traditional TV markets where they have U-verse to compete with Comcast and Google? That’s one layer. On the other layer you have mobile, with [company]Cablevision[/company] going into Manhattan where [company]Verizon[/company] and AT&T have broadband wireless and putting together an unwired wifi network for $30 a month’

His point is that there is competition, although it may not be the competition we would all like to see.

Cuban is clearly worried about one, well two mega players and neither one is a big ISP. “I would rather see national competition for [company]Google[/company] than no competition for Google. If you put a lid on Time Warner and Comcast and Google just keeps adding more and more markets, who’s going to compete with them?”

Google and [company]Apple[/company] constitute a huge countervailing force for all the ISPs because of their mobile might. “The fastest growing access for Internet is mobile. Who controls access to mobile? Google and Apple. The far greater risk is if Apple decides that the Comcast app is not right, Comcast won’t be able to reach most of its market to give access to its own broadband. Kind of crazy but it’s a possibility.” For the record, he isn’t recommending regulation to stop that either.

His point isn’t that Comcast or Time Warmer or insert-your-least-favorite cable provider here) are so great — he admits they are not — it’s just that the FCC its regulations are ill equipped to deal with fast-changing technologies. The public would be better served to let the cable companies duke it out with each other and, perhaps more to the point, with far scarier competitors including Google and Apple.

He starts about 10 minutes in. But here is the kill shot: Do you really want the same organization (the FCC) that took 8 years to deal with Janet Jackson’s Wardrobe Malfunction at Super Bowl XXXVIII to be the gating factor in the internet? Ummmm, maybe not.

Listen to the whole thing to find out how you, too, can get in touch with Cuban, such a shy and reserved guy, to ask your own questions on net neutrality; whether the NBA is seeing diminishing returns on data analytics; and why the heck the Celtics let the Mavs steal Rajon Rondo. Whatever.

Businessman and TV personality Mark Cuban speaks onstage at TechCrunch Disrupt at Pier 48 on September 8, 2014 in San Francisco, California.

Businessman and TV personality Mark Cuban speaks onstage at TechCrunch Disrupt at Pier 48 on September 8, 2014 in San Francisco, California.

In our intro section, Jonathan Vanian and I discuss all (or a bunch anyway) of this week’s Kubernetes news — where Mirantis was latest into the pool, working with Google to bring the cluster management framework to OpenStack clouds, joining HP and a raft of other tech vendors endorsing the open-source framework. Interestingly, Spotify blazed its own trail,  Helios as opposed to Kubernetes for its own workloads.

Oh and we wonder what is up, exactly, with HP’s cloud now that Marten Mickos has stepped back from his leadership job — after just six months.

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Hosts: Barb Darrow, Derrick Harris and Jonathan Vanian

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Entrepreneurs embrace net neutrality plan (except Mark Cuban)

Propaganda machines are running full-blast ahead of next week’s landmark vote on net neutrality, so readers should take most “news” about the FCC with a grain of salt. That said, it’s worth noting a new letter in the debate over whether net neutrality will protect entrepreneurs (as supporters claim) or if it will instead damn small business to crushing regulations, as Republican Commissioner Ajit Pai, backed by the telecom industry, is warning.

The letter comes via the advocacy group Engine, and is signed by more than 100 startups and emerging businesses. Many of the names are unfamiliar but some — including Yelp, Etsy, Kickstarter, Tumblr and GitHub – are among America’s favorite new companies.

Their position, in short, is that the FCC’s proposed “Title II” rules, which would forbid ISPs from giving special treatment to some websites over others, is not the regulatory bugbear of Pai’s imagination:

“Any claim that a net neutrality plan based in Title II would somehow burden “small, independent businesses and entrepreneurs with heavy-handed regulations that will push them out of the market” is simply not true,” the letter said. It added, “The threat of ISPs abusing their gatekeeper power to impose tolls and discriminate against competitive companies is the real threat to our future.”

This, of course, is part of a public relations effort but it doesn’t change the fact that all these companies, which are run by sophisticated and successful entrepreneurs, put their names on it.

The entrepreneurs could be lying or maybe they’re deluded. The better bet, though, is that the they genuinely favor rules to prevent the likes of Comcast or Verizon using their power over pipes as a cudgel to demand money or favors.

So are there any bonafide entrepreneurs (as opposed to Pai and the telecom giants) concerned about the regulatory burden of Title II? Well, there’s at least one.

On Wednesday, Dallas Mavericks owner and startup booster Mark Cuban was at it again, railing at a Re/code conference how the FCC will “fuck up everything” with its new rules. (He’s made such rants before).

Normally, it’s worth paying attention to Cuban since he’s bang-on about other issues involving small business, especially patent reform, and has a lot of pull in investment circles.

On this one, though, his concern may be overblown since the FCC has been clear that it’s taking a light touch to Title II and will be using it to prevent internet throttling, while also staying clear of measures like rate regulation or forced access. (One also wonders if Cuban’s F-bombs have anything to do with the fact that he is the chairman of a cable network).

So there you have it. You entrepreneurs out there can join Etsy and all, and run the risk of FCC regulations, or throw your lot in with Cuban and put yourselves at the mercy of the big ISPs.

Here’s the Engine letter, which is short, and has all the companies’ names:

Engine Letter Re FCC

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