Cable Industry's Own Survey Shows Majority Support Net Neutrality Rules
from the when-push-polls-backfire dept
The broadband industry is continuing its brave campaign to convince the public that gutting all oversight of growing monopolies like Comcast somehow ends well for the American consumer and smaller Comcast competitors. Last week this involved the cable industry’s top lobbying organization (the NCTA) working with the Daily Caller on a poll the industry clearly hoped would show that the public really hates net neutrality protections. The full survey of 2,194 Americans (pdf) uses omission and leading questions to nudge participants toward taking the view that net neutrality protections are “burdensome regulations” imposed by an out of control government.
But it didn’t work out that way.
As it turns out, 61% of the survey participants said they support rules prohibiting giant ISPs like AT&T and Comcast from being able to use the lack of last-mile competition in broadband to their anti-competitive advantage:
Note, again, that just 18% truly oppose net neutrality rules, while 21% still somehow have no apparent idea what any of us have been talking about for the better part of the last decade. And while the results pretty clearly suggest that the majority of the public supports the rules (which previous data has already suggested), this being the post-truth era, ISP-funded think tank employees like the AEI’s Roslyn Layton were quick to insist the survey somehow proved the exact opposite:
— Roslyn Layton (@RoslynLayton) May 12, 2017
Layton, one of Trump’s telecom advisors, not only intentionally misstates what the survey actually found — but she pushes for Congress to proceed on a new net neutrality law. As we’ve noted numerous times, the FCC knows it may be on shaky legal footing as it tries to roll back the rules via FCC process, since the agency will need to show that the broadband market has changed substantially since the court upheld the rules last year. As such, large ISPs (and friends) are pushing for a new law to “settle” the issue once and for all. You’re to ignore that AT&T, Comcast, Verizon and Charter will be the ones writing it, ensuring it has so many loopholes as to be effectively useless.
The NCTA had only modestly better luck with other questions by forcing consumers to pigeon-hole their thoughts into arguably narrow silos. One question for example, asks “when it comes to the role of the federal government in regulating access to the Internet, which of the following comes closest to your view, even if none are exactly right?” Users were then forced to choose one of several narrow options, the majority answering that they thought it best that the government engage in a “light touch” approach to the internet where the government only acts if consumers are harmed:
So one, despite large ISP hand-wringing, we’ve noted time and time again that the FCC’s 2015 net neutrality rules weren’t really particularly onerous. Indeed, for those who actually understand them, they clearly are “light touch.” They specifically blocked themselves from making use of any of the more onerous provisions of Title II (and, no, they can’t just ignore that “forbearance” process and change their minds). In fact, the rules didn’t even ban ISPs from using arbitrary usage caps to hamstring competing services (aka “zero rating”), saying the FCC would only step in during obvious evidence of harm (precisely what the majority of the respondents indicated they wanted). And contrary to repeated ISP claims, the rules did not stifle investment.
Meanwhile, as Ars Technica was quick to point out, the question responses suggest the majority of the public generally approves of the FCC approach in more recent years:
“The problem with the “ability to set specific prices” and “take action if consumers are harmed” survey answers is that both of them accurately describe the current federal system. The FCC does have the ability to set specific Internet prices, but it doesn’t do so and has no intentions of doing so. The FCC’s 2015 net neutrality order did not set specific prices for home and mobile Internet service but used Title II authority to let consumers complain about prices and practices that are unjust or unreasonable. In other words, the FCC’s current approach is to “monitor the marketplace and take action if consumers are harmed,” the approach supported by the majority of people in the cable survey.”
Despite ISPs ceaselessly whining that the FCC overreached when it comes to net neutrality, people need to understand that this is traditionally an agency — under both parties — that happily turns a blind eye to predatory duopoly behavior, especially as it pertains to limited competition and how that results in Americans paying significantly more money for broadband than their European counterparts. That the FCC was going to seriously wake up to these problems and begin fully holding these duopolies accountable has never truly been a worry — even under recent FCC boss Tom Wheeler.
You’ll recall the FCC’s $300 million broadband map intentionally omitted including pricing data at ISP request (include it, and somebody might just realize the industry isn’t competitive). The FCC (again, under both parties) has also long turned a blind eye to the use of usage caps and overage fees to levy tolls on these uncompetitive markets (and competitiors), and the use of misleading below-the-line fees to jack up the cost of service after users sign up at the advertised rate (read: false advertising). This is, “light touch” regulation by any definition. To a fault.
And, contrary to public wisdom and large ISP jargon, the FCC passing some fairly modest net neutrality rules — and returning ISPs to common carriers under Title II so those rules could be adequately enforced (something you can technically thank Verizon for) — doesn’t mean that was going to change anytime soon.
It’s important to understand that the majority of ISPs were okay with the lion’s share of the FCC’s net neutrality rules, given they gave ample leeway for things like zero rating, and only truly prohibited things most ISPs never intended to do anyway for fear of a PR backlash (blocking a single website or service, for example). The real fear among providers like Verizon is that the FCC might, under some future theoretical leadership, actually wake up and decide to use its authority granted by the Communications Act to do something about the lack of competition in the sector.
To thwart this theoretical and unlikely future, FCC boss Ajit Pai’s current plan is to gut FCC authority over broadband and shovel it over to an over-extended, under-funded, and jurisdiction-limited FTC, where large ISPs know these problems will fall through the cracks. Most reasonable folks realize that until we somehow bring more competition to bear on the sector, we’re likely going to need a bit more regulatory supervision than we might otherwise like for some of the least competitive toddlers in American industry. After all, even the cable industry’s own survey says so.