Verizon adds a dose of sanity to net neutrality debate

Verizon adds a dose of sanity to net neutrality debate

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As the net neutrality debate rages on, one company takes a deep breath and says something sensible.

As we careen into 2015, 'tis the season to assess the issues that will define the year ahead. 

Unfortunately, there are almost too many social, political, economic and literal battles looming on the horizon to count. The net neutrality debate is just one of them. It centers on whether Internet service providers must treat all traffic equally or can restrict access to bandwidth and charge more for so-called "fast lanes."

K Street

Since Obama weighed in on the issue in November, it has become a political fracas worthy of the Affordable Care Act. On the left, you'll hear a thousand variations of "free" and "open"; on the right, the phrase "stifling innovation" in every possible conjugation and declension. Ted Cruz has called proposed net neutrality regulations "Obamacare for the Internet."

Predictably, the "lobbying frenzy" has already begun.

Wall Street

While the politicians' feelings are bumper-sticker clear, the corporations stuffing their pockets have had a harder time saying what they mean. 

Comcast (CMCSA) pretended to greet the President's support for strict net neutrality rules with enthusiasm, expressing support on the company's blog. Time called the faux support "troll[ing]" and "clickbait," saying, in so many words, that Comcast was lying through its teeth.

Google (GOOG), had already come out in support for net neutrality in September, garbling the political messaging slightly by saying net neutrality protected "innovation." Yet actions speak louder than words, and we shouldn't forget the firm's 2010 joint proposal with Verizon (VZ) that would have combatted FCC attempts to prohibit traffic discrimination and sweetened the deal for the wireless carrier.

Even Netflix (NFLX), supposedly the voice crying out in the desert for net neutrality, saw no problem signing a paid deal with Comcast to support HD-quality streaming.

So what do these companies actually want? It's safe to assume good PR combined with favorable levels of regulation, but what does that mean in the context of this convoluted debate? What news is good news for investors, who when it comes to the internet are pretty much by definition also consumers?

We might be tempted to react as AT&T (T) has, and hold our breath until someone tells us what the rules are. 

Verizon

In all of this, we've heard very little that is not panicky fear-mongering or fuzzy marketing-speak (yeah, Google, we think the internet's "awesome" too). 

But Verizon EVP/CFO Francis Shammo said something during a December 9 conference call that should make us all breathe a little easier, i.e. something sane: "We're going to continue to invest in our networks and our platforms, both in Wireless and Wireline FiOS and where we need to. So nothing will influence that." 

Not even a full-on Title II regulatory vice-grip—which is far from likely from a Republican Congress—will stop Verizon from expanding their networks.

No one can be sure exactly how the regulatory dust will settle, but at least one company is not planning on going the way of our government and ceasing to function.

Click on the interactive chart to view data over time. 

 

1. Comcast Corporation (CMCSA, Earnings, Analysts, Financials): Provides entertainment, information, and communications products and services in the United States and internationally. Market cap at $150.30B, most recent closing price at $58.39.

 

 

2. Google Inc. (GOOG, Earnings, Analysts, Financials): Google is the world's most popular search engine. Market cap at $362.26B, most recent closing price at $534.03.

 

 

3. Netflix, Inc. (NFLX, Earnings, Analysts, Financials): Provides subscription based Internet services for TV shows and movies in the United States and internationally. Market cap at $20.49B, most recent closing price at $340.05.

 

 

4. AT&T, Inc. (T, Earnings, Analysts, Financials): Provides telecommunication services to consumers, businesses, and other service providers worldwide. Market cap at $177.24B, most recent closing price at $34.17.

 

 

5. Time Warner Inc. (TWX, Earnings, Analysts, Financials): Operates as a media and entertainment company in the United States and internationally. Market cap at $72.71B, most recent closing price at $86.71.

 

 

6. Verizon Communications Inc. (VZ, Earnings, Analysts, Financials): Provides communication services. Market cap at $198.61B, most recent closing price at $47.86.

 

 

(List compiled by David Floyd. Monthly return data sourced from Zacks Investment Research. All other data sourced from finviz.)

 

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