On December 14th 2017, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted to repeal the net neutrality rules passed in 2015 by the Obama Administration. Over the past several weeks, many websites (including Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter) have undertaken PR campaigns marked by astounding hyperbole, calling net neutrality repeal the end of the internet as we know it.
During this time, I’ve been inundated with countless texts, emails, and phone calls from frantic friends concerned about keeping the internet open and free. But when I began to research the subject, I discovered a number of misunderstandings and falsehoods about net neutrality. First, though, some context is needed.
The Backstory: In 1996, President Clinton declared that the internet should be kept unfettered from Federal and state regulation. As a result of Clinton’s light-touch, free-market approach, the internet has expanded into a 1.5 trillion dollar industry over the last twenty years. Alongside this growth, internet delivery methods have increased in speed and ubiquity, ramping up from the 28-kilobyte modems of old, to today’s gigabyte fiber and wi-fi, making access to the internet cheaper and more widely available.
In 2015, the FCC under the Obama Administration designated the internet a public utility under Title II of the 1934 Communications Act in order to prevent internet service providers from using their power to “slow down, speed up, or block data as it is routed from its content originator to end users.” But these regulatory changes – which the Obama FCC termed “net neutrality” – targeted a nonexistent problem: the internet had been functioning in a free and open manner for twenty years.
According to a recent poll 83% of Americans oppose net neutrality repeal, but the opposition’s confused rhetoric demonstrates that about the same percentage of Americans probably do not accurately understand net neutrality in the first place. Here are just a few of the common myths surrounding the net neutrality debate:
- “Net neutrality repeal will hurt small businesses!”
Proponents of net neutrality argue that application of Title II public utility regulations to the internet will place smaller internet service providers (ISPs) on a level playing field with bigger ones, like AT&T and Verizon. Although this might make some sense in theory, the result is ironically just the opposite, as FCC Chairman Ajit Pai stated in a recent interview.
Current net neutrality regulations under Title II require ISPs to gain approval from the FCC before trying any new business methods, technology applications, or marketing methods. These and other Title II requirements increase the cost of doing business for smaller and bigger ISPs alike, but the AT&Ts and Verizons of the world can actually handle the new regulatory burden more easily due to their deeper pockets. Upping the regulatory burden on ISPs thus stifles market growth and technological innovation.
Net neutrality regulations only make it harder for new ISPs to enter the market, leaving the internet squarely in the hands of the biggest ISPs and their unelected bureaucrat friends at the FCC.
- “Content providers support net neutrality because they care about consumers!”
Many websites have been up in arms about the impending repeal of net neutrality regulations, arguing that repealing these regulations would hurt the consumers who visit their sites and use their services. Taken at face value, this outpouring of support seems to come from a place of genuine concern.
In reality, these websites only care because net neutrality gives them an edge in negotiations with ISPs. Under Title II net neutrality rules, all data must be treated equally, regardless of bandwidth usage or increased demand for certain content. For example, ISPs must stream Netflix just as fast as they provide data from a website that receives far fewer views a day, though it would be far more efficient to devote more of their resources to Netflix streaming.
Content providers who might not fare as well in an open, demand-governed market therefore support net neutrality because it artificially constrains their competitors and prevents new market entrants from taking too much of their share. These regulations don’t make sense, and certainly don’t provide an environment for market competition and innovation to flourish.
- “Net neutrality ensures the right to internet access!”
Another common trope of arguments favorable to net neutrality states that access to the internet is a right that this repeal would take away. In reality, from President Clinton’s proclamation in 1996 until the advent of net neutrality in 2015, the internet spread rapidly and widely. Over 85% of U.S. households gained access to networks capable of data speeds over 100 megabytes per second. Meanwhile the telecommunications industry, regulated under Title II’s rules since 1934, remained stagnant.
Government price controls on public utilities and other “common carriers” have smothered growth and investment. Conversely, the open market for internet service has provided Americans with more internet access and higher speeds than most countries around the globe. In fact, the United States sits at #8 in the world for internet speed, leading European countries like Germany (#27) and France (#34) who regulate ISPs under a public utility model.
- “If net neutrality is repealed, ISPs will block access to some content!”
Despite insistence to the contrary by net neutrality advocates, the internet will remain free and open after the repeal of net neutrality regulations. We know this because the internet was free and open before the regulations were put in place. Prior to 2015, ISPs only engaged in anti-competitive conduct four times, and such conduct still fell under the regulatory purview of the FCC and Federal Trade Commission.
Contrary to popular belief, ISPs would not benefit by blocking content. According to the FCC, after net neutrality repeal “any Internet service provider would be required to publicly disclose [content blocking practices] and would face fierce consumer backlash as well as scrutiny from the Federal Trade Commission, which will have renewed authority to police unfair, deceptive, and anticompetitive practices.”
The main perpetrators of this myth, we should note, are content providers like YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter. These companies have repeatedly censored ideas and content they disagree with, yet they ask Americans to believe that they are friends of the First Amendment and that they are protecting them against the imagined threat of Big Bad ISP’s. How ironic.
None of these four arguments in favor of net neutrality succeed. They do not address net neutrality’s actual effects, and obscure how the repeal of this two-year-old heavy-handed regulatory framework will make a positive difference in the daily lives of internet users. Despite what your favorite websites tell you, net neutrality fixes a problem that doesn’t exist, by overburdening internet service providers with regulations that hurt consumers. It’s high time it died.
The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Lone Conservative staff.