Neutrality debate illustrates importance of trust

John C. Tanner
16 Jun 2014

Over the last few months, my Facebook newsfeed has been peppered with hysterical rants and memes about the FCC's proposed net neutrality rules that would allow ISPs to establish "priority lanes" for heavy bandwidth generators like Google and Netflix. Even though the same rules prohibit doing this at the expense of other users or content providers, pro-neutrality proponents have denounced the proposal as the death of net neutrality and, consequently, the death of the internet as we know it.

Which is almost certainly a fantastic exaggeration. But it's typical of the net neutrality debate in the US right now. And the more I hear the arguments against the FCC proposal, the more I start to realize that the whole debate is actually symptomatic of a broader, overall disconnect between telcos and consumers.

The basic assumption of most pro-neutrality groups is that if the FCC's priority-lane proposal is adopted, Comcast, A&T and every other ISP in America will actively use it to kill off rival services and transform the open internet into Comcastland (or whatever), which only the rich will be able to afford to use. Something to that effect.

Hyperbole aside, what interests me is the fact that Comcast et al have this reputation in the first place. The default perception seems to be that major ISPs will screw over everyone - including their own customers - to make a buck. Why is that?

A recent global consumer survey conducted by IBM (highlighted in our latest CEM & Big Data supplement) shines some light on the extent of the problem.

Basically, the rise of blogging and social media has empowered consumers to determine the reputation of a service provider's brand. Almost 60% of survey respondents get info on telecoms services via family and friends, and 56% get it from social media.

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