FCC’s Net Neutrality Myths

We’ve been having the policy debate over creating net neutrality since at least 2005. During that time there have been a lot of arguments made on both sides of the issue. But overall it’s been a policy debate that is similar to the many other issues discussed in the telecom regulatory world. Both sides make their arguments and eventually a decision is made to regulate or not regulate according to the arguments. Politics has always played a role in these debates and issues tend to slew a bit according to the political leanings of the FCC at any given time.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai recently released a document that argues strenuously for the end of net neutrality. This document lists various ‘myths’ associated with net neutrality and then describes why each myth is untrue. If you look back at the history of the net neutrality debate you’ll see that his list is a summary of the arguments being made over time by the big ISPs. This is a document that one would expect from AT&T, Comcast, USTA or ALEC – but not from the Chairman of the FCC.

I have a problem with the Chairman’s list because most of the conclusions drawn are factually incorrect. It’s expected for the big ISPs to make arguments in their favor, even if those arguments are not wholly true – but it’s disturbing to see these same arguments coming from the FCC, which is supposed to be the arbiter for telecom policy issues.

I don’t think I have any bias that makes me see these statements as false. Anybody whose been reading my blogs knows that I am as biased as anybody else in the industry. My bias is towards policies that allows smaller ISPs to compete. And I am strongly in favor of policies that try to solve the rural broadband gap and the overall digital divide. But other than that I am largely neutral on other telecom policies and am receptive to hear all arguments on the various issues. Other than as a consumer I have no strong bias in the net neutrality debate because I don’t believe that small ISPs will violate net neutrality even if there aren’t any rules. The net neutrality argument really only concerns the behavior of the largest and most powerful ISPs in the telecom market. I could go through the document and discuss each ‘myth’ – but that doesn’t lend itself to a blog-length discussion. But I think every one of the Chairman’s arguments is stretching the truth.

For example, the document rolls out the old big-ISP argument that broadband investments have dropped due to Title II regulation. This argument goes back to shoddy work done by one researcher on the big ISP payroll and has been debunked numerous times. The numbers tell a different story and investments have not dropped. So do the actions of the big ISPs – AT&T, Verizon, Comcast and most of the other big ISPs are all undertaking aggressive expansion and upgrades. Look at what each of these companies is telling their stockholders and you don’t see an industry in retreat. Title II regulation has had almost zero impact on investment decisions (and regulation rarely has ever done so).

Chairman Pai also argues that the Internet was free and open before we had Title II regulation. That’s not the way I remember it. The net neutrality debate has been going on since 2005 and the ISPs have been held in check by the threat of net neutrality regulation. Even without Title II regulations in place the FCC was able in the past to pressure the ISPs on practices like data caps and zero-rating by the threat of future regulation – and for the last decade this has largely worked. Title II regulation didn’t just appear out of thin air with the FCC order in 2014 – the net neutrality principles were the backbone of FCC regulation and actions for a decade before then.

This FCC document also argues that the Federal Trade Commission is well equipped to police unfair, deceptive and anticompetitive behavior from ISPs. That gives the FCC cover to duck out of regulating broadband. What this doesn’t mention is that the big ISPs are now attacking the FTC’s right to regulate broadband (a blog will be coming on this soon). I find it extraordinary that the FCC would declare that it should have no role in regulating broadband – the most important telecommunications product. Regulating broadband seems to be their role in the industry almost by definition.

I guess more than anything else this document disappoints me. While there have always been some politics involved in the decisions made in our industry, past FCCs have largely decided issues on their merits. My own business was founded largely due to the Telecommunications Act of 1996 which unleashed much-needed competition into the industry. But I look at this current FCC and see that the pendulum has swung to one far extreme and the merit of issues aren’t even part of policy discussions. That saddens me.

One thought on “FCC’s Net Neutrality Myths

  1. Why are you surprised Doug? Pai has shown to be a liar.

    1. Blatant lying that NN caused a downturn of ISP network investment when the CEOs of these companies which are required by law to tell the truth to investors told them that the 2015 title II had no impact on network investment. Company records showed investment increased.

    2. His refusal to release any evidence to investigators of why the FCC site went down claiming it was a DDOS attack.

    3. Pai also wants to lower the minimum broadband speed of 25 megs to 10 megs. Why? Because of the many massive areas in this country that are STILL underserved. He wants to make it easy for wireless providers to deploy no matter how inferior or very costly to the consumer it is. All this 5G hype is just what it is: hype. It hasn’t even been developed yet. Never mind all the fiber needed.

    4. Then there’s the matter of copper retirement which a vast amount of the country relies on for DSL and plain old telephone service that both AT&T and Verizon are pushing to get rid of without the equal function test that ensures that whatever replaces it can deliver without issue.

    5. Preventing states from deciding for themselves what they want at the behest of corporate greed.

    6. Then comes Pai’s argument of calling ISPs “information services” which they were 20 YEARS AGO at the dawn of the internet when Compuserve and AOL where dominant and dial-up was commonplace and expensive for those that could afford it.
    ISPs are now “telecommunication service providers” hosting a helluva lot more than just information. We are talking about streaming TV made possible by Netflix, You Tube, VOIP telephones which have essentially replaced POTS, gaming, video chat, multimedia, downloads, e-commerce and a lot more.

    7. His latest bullshit over twitter saying that the social network has silenced conservative views when in fact the company has only kicked off users that perpetuate hate speech which is not the same.

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