Fact Check on LA Times Net Neutrality Op-Ed

The LA Times offered a new voice in the net neutrality debate. Here are the claims that deserve rebuttal.

Claim: With a 3-2 vote, the FCC overturned a long tradition — one that had only culminated in 2015 in the formalizing of the principle of net neutrality, but that had been honored long before open internet rules became official.

Fact: Title II never applied to online internet access until 2015.  While telephony on copper networks was regulated under Title II, broadband sold via DSL was not. Comcast’s merger with NBC came with net neutrality requirements, but they were not as onerous as the 2015 rules, nor did they require Title II. Cable has been regulated under Title VI.

Claim: Secondly, the government must protect free speech and not discriminate against any legal content.

Fact: A First Amendment petition awaits cert in the Supreme Court claiming that they FCC’s 2015 rules violate freedom of speech. The case is significant as the First Amendment protects against government imposing its views on networks, regardless of how benevolent it may think it’s being. This view was upheld 9-0 in ACLU v. Reno.

Claim: Yet in the absence of net neutrality, money will become even more powerful in shaping political opinion.

There is no evidence for this assertion.

Claim: The old rules were easy for service providers to follow

Fact: 2015 rules are opposed by ISPs large and small. Five petitions by ISPs await cert in the  Supreme Court. One ISP reported spending 1680 hours to comply with FCC Open Internet disclosures.

Claim: As the FCC decision forces tiered access, this turns the public sphere into a pay-to-play arena: powerful corporations can pay to see their content served at fast speeds, while their competition (not to mention nonprofits) may be squeezed into a slower tier with less visibility. This not only creates barriers, it raises the specter of censorship.

Fact: 95% of internet content delivered by paid fast lanes today. Expanding the field of prioritization technologies lowers the prices for small providers to keep with the major platforms. Many internet companies censor political speech. See the timeline of political censorship in the US on Internet Freedom Watch.

Claim: The FCC’s decision ignores not only the arguments made by numerous experts in politics, technology research, and public advocacy like the ACLU and EFF, it also overrules the careful work of the FCC’s own Open Internet Advisory Committee, and the advice of the government’s own Congressional Research Service.

Fact: The 2015 rules were called an economics-free zone by the FCC’s own economist at the time.  However in making rules, the agency only needs to provide a reasonable basis for changing policy. A change in presidential administration is such a reason. The FCC makes a powerful case for harm in the 2 years of the rules, summarized here.

Claim: Competition will not fix this, since most Americans face local broadband monopolies.

Fact: The 1934 telephone utility rules of Title II were never the solution for creating more competition, the idea that different technologies should compete to deliver broadband (DSL, cable, 4G, fixed wireless, satellite etc). The goal of Title II is to create a government monopoly of broadband such that private provisions is supplanted by a state-centered utility e.g. Ma Bell.

Internet Freedom is about the permissionless innovation of firms to compete to offer broadband via different technologies and consumers freedom to choose among them. Having the FCC mandate broadband speed, price and technology is the opposite of choice.