or The Case For Verizon to Support Net Neutrality

One of the most fascinating self-destructions lately has got to be Tumblr’s change to not let “explicit material”, or as we adults call it, “porn”, be viewed on the site. Or in the app.

In case you missed the reasoning, Apple did the right thing in pulling the Tumblr app from the App Store when it became clear that Tumblr had child porn out in the open for all to see. For those of you who still support Woody Allen, let me spell it out: child porn is bad. And there was apparently a lot of it being flung about the internet via posts on Tumblr. Who could’ve guessed?

When I heard about this I was both not surprised by Apple’s move and completely flabberghasted by Tumblr’s apparent disregard for what’s on their site. I had thought there was a database of known images that sites could check against to make sure that images or clips from known child porn would be hidden, and the users reported. That something like this exists is, in 2018, completely reasonable. That Tumblr wasn’t using it is completely insane. After all, Net Neutrality doesn’t really apply to content on your own site, no matter who created it, so Tumblr should’ve known and should’ve worked to combat it.

Apple got proof that Tumblr wasn’t fighting child porn, and rightly banned the iOS app, and everyone lost their godsbedamned minds. Apple did the right thing, and in doing the right thing, Apple forced Tumblr to do something, too.

(Here’s where I point out that Tumblr is owned by Verizon, so that you won’t be shocked by WHAT HAPPENED NEXT.)

Instead of doing the right thing, Tumblr did the easy thing: ban anything that might look like porn, up to and included “female-presenting nipples”. In the annals of idiot corporatisms, this is very high on the list. Perhaps peaking out, just a bit, near the top. Unlike Miley’s.

ANYWAY.

Verizon is dumb. Tumblr is dumb. Just dumb. The policy is dumb, the implimentation is dumb, the explanation is dumb, the whole thing, as once said by a great cartoonist, is a “buncha dumbs”. And Verizon owns Tumblr.

Did you know that Verizon owns Tumblr? Yeah, they do. It’s a weird thing, and it sets them up for a nasty set of lawsuits at some point, but Verizon decided that they couldn’t just be a telecom, they needed to own the content as well, that way they can direct people to their content faster, and make more money. Unless there’s Net Neutrality. And that’s the reason that Verizon hates Net Neutrality: Money.

Owning the content is supposed to make Verizon more profitable, and profits make shareholders happy. At least that’s the theory. It’s been the theory since the Bell System was broken up, and it’ll be a theory forever, because, again, buncha dumbs.

Did you know that USWest/Qwest once owned Time/Warner? Did you know that AT&T now owns Time/Warner and also owns DirecTV? And do you know why this stupidity happens? BECAUSE BUNCHA DUMBS.

FULL DISCLOSURE: I’m a 5th Generation Bell Baby. My great-great-grandfather owned a local telecom in Stamps, Arkansas, and that was eventually bought up by Southern Bell, which was part of, and then not part of, AT&T back in the day. My family has, in some way, in every generation, worked in telecom. I own a small ISP in Helena, MT, and I cannot even begin to explain the twisted road that lead me here, and it’s a story for another time. That all being said, I know this business pretty well.

Back to the stupidity. It is toxic and it happens. It’s also cyclic. Here’s how it goes:

  1. The Telecom builds out a bunch of last-mile connections1 in areas where another company will never build because last-mile connections are expensive.
  2.  The Telecom expands pretty rapidly owning all those last-mile connections, because no one else will bring service to those locations.
  3. The Telecom stops building out last-mile connections because some bean-counter ran the numbers and realized that the costs to build don’t create a return in the current quarter, and
  4. The Telecom is publicly-traded and must serve the unending maw of stockholders, and so must find new growth revenue
  5. The Telecom sees the data going over its network, which it stupidly refers to as ‘dumb pipes’2, and thinks it should own that data.
  6. The Telecom buys Content properties, leveraging it’s current worth for some fantastical foolishness thought up by an investment banker. Telecom then owns business it knows nothing about, but now is legally responsible for.
  7. The Telecom is overwhelmed with the crazy at Content property, and gets called out for some shady goings on over there.
  8. The Telecom overreacts and effectively shuts down Content company and loses billions.
  9. The Telecom either figures out an area where it can begin to build out last-mile connections again, or it acquires a smaller, growing telecom, that build last-mile connections.

This happens every time.

That is The Telecom Cycle and it’s been going on since Ma Bell3 was broken up and all the RBOCs4 were forced to compete with other companies along the same terms as any other publicly-traded business.

Now, I’ve already written about why the current standard for publicly-traded businesses is ridiculous, and this cycle is just one more bit of proof. But this has also been a diversion from the main point of this article, which is how Net Neutrality is something that Verizon should be all for, but because it keeps thinking it needs to own content, it cannot have.

You see, when you are just a telecom, what goes over your wire is immaterial to you. You aren’t responsible for content, you can ignore it. And that’s critical. “Why?” you ask. Well, think about the last movie you saw where someone set off a bomb by calling a cell phone and using the ringer as a detonator. If telecoms were responsible for the content, that becomes the telecoms’ bomb.

No, I’m not kidding. Yes, that’s also dumb. But hey, we aren’t here to pick on the law, just to point out where it gets a bit wonky. No one in their right mind would want the telecom to be responsible for the content that is carried over the wire. Hell, look at most of my posts. If your ISP is responsible for the things I’ve said, you better hope you’re on my ISP. (Shameless plug, if you can be on my ISP, you should be. We’re pretty great.)

Mostly you wouldn’t want the telecom to be in charge of the content because they will, as they’ve proven time and again, overreact to any bad actions, and destroy content to absolve themselves from something they should have never put into their portfolio. They are, due to regulations and some history, very afraid of what they can and cannot do, and when they try to appease the stock market, they get into areas that put them afoul of some freedoms they cannot risk. This is that moment for Verizon.

Verizon made today inevitable the day they bought Tumblr. Anyone who’d spent more than 20 minutes on the site could see it was closer to PornHub than Twitter, and at least PornHub is upfront and honest about what it is, and works to keep the skeevies off the site (which, really, Tumblr, how dumb can you be?). There’s no excuse for Verizon doing this, but there’s also no hope for Tumblr now. It’s core as an outlet for the indiscreet and sexual is over, and that’s going to cost it more than the indiscreet and sexual. It’s already damaged the site to the point that many are gone for good. Don’t be surprised when it’s a has-been like geocities.

In all of this, Verizon is the problem. They refuse to enjoy the many advantages they have just being, as they say, ‘dumb pipes’. Being the best at delivering everything on the internet is a lofty goal, and one worth pursuing. Yes, it’s expensive to get fiber-optics to everyone’s home and office, but no one else is going to do it, and you get to be a monopoly simply because everyone else chooses to leave you as a monopoly.5 That’s a very powerful place to be. So never mind, I’m glad that Verizon hasn’t figured that out.

  1. Last-mile connections are the actual final, one-endpoint where a telecom line ends, generally a home or office. This is generally a single-customer line, and can, in rural America, be much longer than a mile, but is generally less as most of the population doesn’t own a house on a lake 75 miles from anything that they require godsdamned gigabit fiber to. Mostly.
  2. I actually love the term ‘dumb pipes’ because it’s so fantastically wrong, but it accurately describes what people should think about how internet connectivity works, so that we as an ISP don’t have to deal with more idiotic regulations. But there is nothing, absolutely nothing, dumb about our pipes. They are incredibly smart, and the team that makes them work must be even smarter. Thank your ISP wire tech next time you see them, you owe them far more than you know.
  3. Ma Bell was AT&T, the American Telephone & Telegraph Company, which at one point was basically the business equivalent of the British Empire, with assets spanning the globe, connecting all of humanity, and run by people who had begun to scrape the bottom of the gene pool. Buncha dumbs, in fact and deed.
  4. RBOCs are the Regional Bell Operating Companies, which is what AT&T was broken in to in 1984. Fun fact, when the company was split they interviewed all the employees, and asked them if any relatives would be working for any of the other RBOCs after the split. My dad went to Mountain Bell, while my mom stayed with AT&T as they did the long-distance stuff. I’m sure that was a fun time for everyone, but I just remember it as a my parents attempt to get Eye-Rolling into the Olympics.
  5. Monopolies on their own aren’t necessarily bad, but they aren’t great. I’m in the business of building out a new service area because the residents need it, and connectivity is always critical, but I’m always mindful of the trust that being a monopoly puts on to our shoulders, and we work very hard to make sure we don’t betray that trust. Again, the B-Corp stuff is important, for this very reason.