One More Time: Just Because The Internet Didn't Explode Doesn't Mean Killing Net Neutrality Was A Great Idea
from the feigned ignorance dept
One common refrain by Pai and and the industry (and many folks who don’t understand how the broken telecom market works) is that because the internet didn’t immediately collapse upon itself post-repeal in a rainbow-colored explosion, that the repeal itself must not be that big of a deal. That ignores the fact that ISPs are only largely behaving because they’re worried about the numerous new state level net neutrality laws passed in the wake of the federal repeal. Not to mention the 23 state AG lawsuit against the FCC (which, if victorious, would restore some or all of the rules).
None of that matters to the Chicago Tribune editorial staff, the latest outlet to proclaim that because your internet connection still works, ignoring the public and letting AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast dictate US federal internet policy must not have been a bad thing:
“The FCC did vote to nix net neutrality, effective June 2018. A year-plus later, broadband download and upload speeds have quickened rather than slowed. Internet providers haven’t bifurcated service into different speeds for rich and poor households. Mobile networks, too, move data more swiftly than before. Broadband investment in better technology again has accelerated. And if baseball fan Chuck Schumer has missed a pitch, blame his bat speed, not his data speed.”
Again, this ignores the fact that ISPs don’t want to dramatically shift their business models only to run afoul of state regulators. Nor do they want to dramatically start ripping people off, only to have the FCC’s 2015 rules suddenly be restored via the AG lawsuit (a ruling in which is expected any day now). Folks writing these kinds of editorials know this. They’re just hoping that you don’t.
Meanwhile, claims that nothing happened in the wake of the repeal aren’t even true. Giants like AT&T have quietly started using broadband usage caps to disadvantage competitors like Netflix. ISPs like CenturyLink have blocked internet access to sling ads. Mobile carriers now charge you more just to stream in HD as intended. And the repeal of net neutrality didn’t just kill net neutrality, it eroded the FCC’s ability to police the sector, leaving us with revolving door regulators totally unwilling to do anything about numerous sector scandals including the collection and sale of user location data or hurricane recovery failures.
When you can’t make your point based on the facts, the trend du jour is to just make up your own facts. In the realm of net neutrality, that usually means falsely claiming that the rules apocalyptically-stifled broadband investment and network upgrades (which has objectively never, ever been true). That doesn’t stop the Tribune:
“That silence you hear in response to those two questions is the sound of free-market incentives improving internet services at a steady pace. Companies are competing to increase rather than decrease data speeds. And, thus far, internet providers haven’t adopted exploitative service and pricing policies that would drive angry customers to rival providers in a heartbeat. And if companies do take unfair advantage of life after net neutrality, the federal deregulation can be modified, or reversed by regulators, or overridden by Congress.”
So one, the speed increases we’ve seen in the wake of the repeal are routine and have nothing to do with repealing net neutrality, something the Tribune likely knows, but ignores. Punting to Congress on this issue is also a cop out when Congress is slathered with telecom sector campaign contributions, something else the Tribune knows is true, but ignores. The pretense remains that the FCC’s 2015 net neutrality rules (fairly tame by international standards) crushed the vibrant and competitive broadband sector, and again, that, like most of the Tribune’s claims, has never been true.
This apparently needs repeating: a telecom regulator ignoring all objective data and neutering itself at the behest of the telecom lobby is a bad thing. Revolving door regulators ignoring the public and gutting essential consumer protections (based on fabricated data) is a bad thing. Government officials turning a blind eye to identity theft and fraud during the one chance consumers had to make their voices heard is a bad thing. Putting natural monopolies with 30 years of anti-competitive behavior under their belts in charge of US telecom policy is a bad thing. It may take a few years for the full negative impact to be seen, but that doesn’t make what happened any less of a problem.
If your response to all of this is “gee, who cares, the internet still works for the moment,” the only thing you’re advertising is your ignorance.