Oops, John Oliver Did it Again

Late night TV personality Stephen Colbert made a name for himself with a parody of Bill O’Reilly on Comedy Central. His colleague John Oliver is trying to mimic him with what appears to be a parody of a conspiracy nut. In essence, Oliver is playing the part of Alex Jones for the left.

The First Time was Funny

In his fifth episode, Oliver did a bit on net neutrality that was fed to him by Marvin Ammori, a sometime Google lobbyist who made his name arguing on behalf of Free Press in the 2008 Comcast/BitTorrent case. The piece mangled all the significant facts about net neutrality, but brought Oliver a great deal of attention.

The most memorable moment was Oliver’s comparison of then-FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler to a dingo. Wheeler denied the dingo claim in an FCC press conference, reinforcing the inability of political players to engage in comedy.

While the Oliver bit made a pop culture impact at the time, it’s doubtful it was nearly as influential in the final order as was the YouTube in which then-President Obama ordered Wheeler to invoke Title II to settle the question once and for all (two years in Washington time). Wheeler promptly reversed course and complied with the wishes of the president, of course.

The Second Time was Boring

Oliver’s second foray on behalf of net neutrality was considerably less entertaining than the first one. While the first segment was 13 minutes long, the second dragged on for more than 20 minutes. Oliver’s go-to funny move was the repeated use of the term “fuck”, which is all it takes to elicit peals of laughter from his easily-pleased audience. He said fuck a dozen times and displayed the text “gofccyourself.com” twice. Oh so very funny.

He dehumanizes FCC Chairman Ajit Pai by comparing him to O. J. Simpson and calling him a serial killer. He repeatedly points out that Pai once worked for Verizon, as if his one year of employment there is in any way comparable to Wheeler’s 20 years as a lobbyist.

Bizarrely, Oliver delivers a minute-long rant against Chairman Pai’s “fucking coffee mug”, ultimately producing an oversized mug of his own. Great comedy?

Oliver’s Explanation of Title II was the Funniest Part of the Segment

Oliver does make an attempt to explain the difference between Title I and Title II to his audience. This part was unfortunately a plagiarized version of the Free Press argument to the effect that Real Net Neutrality requires Title II because…well, some weird, brief experiments went down in the theold days, but mainly just because. Oliver isn’t quite sure why we need Title II, but he’s heard it’s important so that’s that.

When making the “just because” argument for Title II, advocates generally refuse to respond to the counter-argument. Foes of Title II point out that cable modem was free of Title II control before 2015 and DSL was freed from it in 2005.

For some of those years, net neutrality principles or regulations were in effect, and for some the weren’t. But the Internet worked fine from 2005 to 2015 despite the absence of Title II from the equation.

There were some weird experiments to monetize this and that, but they failed on their own and haven’t been repeated. This is exactly what we should expect, of course. Given the freedom to tinker, ISPs will make some strange moves, in the very same way that some apps don’t catch on. Most business experiments fail, but life goes on.

Oliver maintains this was a period of great despair because Verizon briefly blocked access to Google Wallet, but I doubt anyone noticed. He did a funny little bit on the unfortunate name of Verizon’s wallet service, “Isis”. This is the moment of peak fame for the unsuccessful service.

Oliver Stymied by Hackers

Loyal viewers motivated to explore Oliver’s “goofccyourself.com” domain were frustrated. As the segment aired on HBO, the FCC’s website was the target of a DDoS attack that demonstrated, once again, the Internet’s lack of network security.

While net neutrality advocates such as Sam Gustin incorrectly attributed the attack to overload from Oliver’s viewers, the FCC issued a statement laying the blame on attackers:

“Beginning on Sunday night at midnight, our analysis reveals that the FCC was subject to multiple distributed denial-of-service attacks,” the Federal Communications Commission said in a statement Monday. “These were deliberate attempts by external actors to bombard the FCC’s comment system.” DDoS attacks flood a website with useless traffic, causing it to slow down or crash.

Title II fans are too hip to accept the FCC’s explanation and are still complaining about an FCC conspiracy:

“The FCC’s statement today raises a lot of questions, and the agency should act immediately to ensure that voices of the public are not being silenced as it considers a move that would affect every single person that uses the Internet,” Fight for the Future Campaign Director Evan Greer said in a statement.

OK, let’s start looking for little green men in Pai’s coffee mug.

Can We Have a Serious Conversation Now?

Now that we’ve passed the obligatory not-so-funny HBO conspiracy theorist’s take on Title II, serious discussion can recommence. Fly, my pretty policy wonks with all your fancy knowledge of engineering, economics, and law. Make me proud with your wisdom.