Beyond the Pandemic?: Exploring the Impact of Covid-19 on Telecommunications and the Internet

Abstract from Chapter 9 “Net Neutrality in the USA During COVID-19” by Roslyn Layton and Mark Jamison from the book Beyond the Pandemic?: Exploring the Impact of Covid-19 on Telecommunications and the Internet, Whalley, Stocker and Lehr (Eds.) Emerald Publishing, 2023.

The COVID-19 pandemic provides an opportunity to review net neutrality and the notion that bright light rules are necessary to hold broadband provid­ers from exercising market power. The 2015 Federal Communications Com­mission (FCC) Open Internet Order asserted that broadband providers have the capability and incentive to harm their customers and third-party service providers. It imposed a set of rules to control broadband providers’ offers, prices, and traffic management. The 2017 FCC vacated all but the transpar­ency provisions of the OIO, restoring the oversight of broadband to the FTC. This paper offers a review of the evidence regarding the effects of net neutral­ity regulation, including an investigation of the incidence of violations, or lack thereof, during the 2020 pandemic in the United States. It provides a review of the net neutrality literature and the international research on broadband provider behaviour during COVID-19. The paper presents original research conducted with FCC and FTC reports and a survey of news stories. Brief re­views of federal data on network performance and broadband adoption pro­vide additional context. Given the limited incidence of violations that could be uncovered for the period, the paper suggests why broadband providers be­haved opposite to regulatory advocates’ predictions. Contrary to many policy assertions, broadband providers did not block or throttle service, nor did they increase prices arbitrarily or decrease quality. Broadband providers appeared to expand availability, lower broadband prices, and make more networks available, frequently without customer charge. The paper suggests how policy could be updated to reflect the actual behaviour of broadband providers.


Jason Whalley is Professor of Digital Economy at Northumbria Business School, Northumbria University, UK.

Volker Stocker is a Postdoctoral Researcher at the Weizenbaum Institute for the Networked Society and TU Berlin, Germany.

William Lehr is a research scientist in the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) at MIT, USA.

Published by

Emerald Publishing Limited (May 9, 2023)