Dumb Telecom Take Of The Week: Because The Internet Didn't Explode, Killing Net Neutrality Must Not Have Mattered

from the bad-faith-gibberish dept

Very worried about the possible restoration of net neutrality at the Biden FCC, the telecom sector has taken to using telecom industry-friendly news outlets to parrot things you may be surprised to learn aren’t actually true.

This week a coalition of infotainment outlets, including Fox News, The Hill, Reason, and the Washington Examiner all pushed stories with the same underlying narrative: four years ago net neutrality was repealed and the internet didn’t explode, therefore repealing net neutrality must not have mattered. The narrative also bumbled around Twitter thanks to former Ajit Pai assistant Nathan Leamer, who now works for Targeted Victory, a DC internet comms and policy shop whose members have (surprise) telecoms like AT&T as a client.

All of the coordinated stories (likely requested by AT&T and/or Comcast, then funneled through their K Street policy shops to friendly news outlets) sent some variation of the same message. Because the internet didn’t grind to an absolute halt, gutting net neutrality just didn’t matter:

“Democrats and the media widely denounced the move at the time, calling it an encroachment on personal freedoms and would lead to the end of the internet as we know it. But their melodramatics have proven to be little more than that in the years since.”

You’ll be surprised to learn that all of these hot takes not only intentionally misrepresent what net neutrality is, but what actually happened. They also intentionally try to frame net neutrality as a “partisan debate” to sow dissent, when in reality a bipartisan majority of Americans supported the rules and didn’t want them repealed (that wasn’t mentioned in any of the reports for obvious reasons). And while there was no shortage of hyperbole on both sides of the net neutrality debate’s sprawling 19-year span (find me a tech policy debate where overheated rhetoric doesn’t exist), the idea that “the internet still works therefore the repeal was a good idea” is just absolute gibberish.

The Repeal Did Way More Than “Eliminate Net Neutrality Rules”

For those who still don’t understand, the Trump FCC repeal of net neutrality didn’t just “kill net neutrality rules.” It gutted much of the FCC’s consumer protection authority over telecom giants, shoveling it over to the FTC that lacks the authority and resources to adequately police the sector (the entire point). Not only that, it tried to ban states from having any authority over telecom as well. AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast’s goal: eliminating most meaningful state and federal oversight of one of the most monopolized and disliked industries in America.

It’s downright dumb that anybody remotely familiar with U.S. broadband monopolies would celebrate any of that.

One reason big ISPs haven’t behaved worse in the wake of the repeal isn’t because the rules didn’t matter, it’s because of the states. The courts ruled that the FCC’s attempt to block states from protecting broadband consumers was a gross over reach. In response, several states (like Washington, Maine, and California) passed replacement state level net neutrality laws ISPs weren’t keen on violating. Large ISPs were also nervous about the return of net neutrality rules on the federal level (yeah, the threat of regulation can be nearly as much of a deterrent as actual regulation) so they generally tried to avoid stupid stuff that was too ham fisted: like blocking entire websites or competitors outright.

Granted the nation’s biggest ISPs still engaged in net neutrality violations, they just had to be quieter and slightly more clever about it. That often involved imposing gatekeeper barriers, then trying to sell consumers and policymakers on the idea they were exciting new value propositions. Like AT&T imposing arbitrary and unnecessary broadband usage caps, then using those caps to disadvantage streaming competitors. Or CenturyLink briefly blocking internet access to sling ads. Or Verizon charging you extra to stream HD video. Or Sprint trying to charge its subscribers extra just to enjoy music, video, or games.

No, the internet didn’t stop working completely (not that actual experts on this subject claimed it would), but some negative, paradigm-shifting stuff has happened. ISPs have just tried to keep in a bit reined in. Why? They don’t want to violate new state laws, or provide ammunition for the return of federal rules (which the courts have stated the FCC has the authority to re-impose). Did any of the outlets above or guys like Leamer mention any of that? No? I wonder why.

Something telecom giants and their assorted policy allies would like you to not understand: the repeal of net neutrality for telecom giants like Comcast was about way more than net neutrality. It was about further weakening the FCC’s authority to hold them accountable for much of anything. Net neutrality rules were an imperfect stopgap measure to try and prevent telecom monopolies from abusing their gatekeeping market power in the absence of (a) meaningful competition (especially at faster speeds) and (b) a functional Congress interested in tackling telecom monopolization and 30 years of proven bad behavior. It’s obvious to anybody familiar with companies like Comcast or AT&T that U.S. telecom lacks both healthy competition and consistent, competent regulatory oversight.

Why Would Anybody Applaud Comcast Sponsored Bullshit And Fraud?

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. Ignoring the public and using bogus data to eliminate popular consumer protections that took fifteen years of consensus making to craft is a bad thing. Telecom lobbyists using dead and fake people to create fake support for broadly unpopular policy 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. If you’re applauding this stuff you’re either misinformed, or engaged in the misinforming.

One problem is that across its massive lifespan the net neutrality debate simply became too convoluted and boring for the general public to maintain engagement with. In the years since the repeal I’ve tried to simplify the argument to help the easily bored and confused: the real underlying problem with U.S. broadband is a lack of competition caused by regional monopolies, and the corrupt state and federal lawmakers who coddle those monopolies. If you had functional competition and some marginally-competent oversight, you wouldn’t need net neutrality rules, because users would simply drop ISPs that behaved badly–or be protected by state or federal consumer protection watchdogs in cases where they couldn’t.

Net neutrality violations, privacy violations, spotty service, high prices, slow speeds, and terrible customer service, are all just symptoms of limited broadband competition. In U.S. markets where you have neither healthy broadband competition nor competent regulatory oversight (read: most of them) you get experiences like Comcast, which everybody should be familiar with. Unfortunately, both parties (admittedly one more than the other) have a bizarre allergy to fixing, or even acknowledging the monopolization and corruption that ensures U.S. broadband continues to suck. So you either get convoluted solutions to what actually is a fairly simple problem (rare), or no solutions at all (common).

Net neutrality rules were a complicated band aid applied by the FCC in the wake of a Congress too corrupt to stand up to telecom monopolies. If you’re applauding AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon’s successful bid to lobotomize the FCC so they can continue ripping you off with shitty, expensive service, you’ve most certainly been rooting for the wrong team. Net neutrality rules certainly weren’t perfect, but they were an attempt to do something within the confines of a corrupt, broken system. The general alternative has been to let giant regional monopolies like AT&T and Comcast dictate all state and federal telecom policy, and if you have a pair of eyes and a wallet you can clearly see how well that strategy has worked over the last 30 years in America.

So as the net neutrality fracas heats up in the new year, at least try to vet the sources of the claims being made, and whether they’re making those claims in good faith as truly objective observers. And try to understand that the real underlying problem activists and experts are trying to fix (admittedly sometimes clumsily and with hyperbole) is telecom monopolization and the corruption that protects it. If individuals, politicians, or pundits aren’t willing to take concrete steps to fix those two key problems–or can’t even acknowledge they exist–they’re generally not going to be a helpful part of any meaningful solution.

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Comments on “Dumb Telecom Take Of The Week: Because The Internet Didn't Explode, Killing Net Neutrality Must Not Have Mattered”

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23 Comments
This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
That One Guy (profile) says:

'Of course I didn't steal anything, everyone was watching!'

ISPs arguing that network neutrality rules were scrapped and they didn’t immediately start blatantly gouging customers(more than usual) is evidence that those rules weren’t needed is the equivalent of a known pickpocket claiming that because they didn’t obviously steal anything while everyone was watching them there’s no need for rules against theft.

Network neutrality rules were in place because the ISPs had shown that they couldn’t be trusted to act responsibly and not screw over their customers every chance they could get, if there was a healthy market those rules wouldn’t be needed because their greatest fear in the form of Actual Competition would help reign them in but until that’s the case there most certainly is a need for rules to at last set some boundaries on how badly they can gouge the public.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: 'Of course I didn't steal anything, everyone was watching!'

"…and they didn’t immediately start blatantly gouging customers(more than usual) is evidence that those rules weren’t needed is the equivalent of a known pickpocket claiming that because they didn’t obviously steal anything while everyone was watching them there’s no need for rules against theft. "

I guess according to them Netflix vs Comcast was just a bad dream then.

And that they hadn’t immediately started price gouging customers surely had nothing to do with multiple states immediately implementing net neutrality rules of their own, rendering it hard for ISP’s to determine where such gouging would be hard to accomplish.

And that last bit is fairly important, because unless I misremember the very second states started doing that various ISP lobbies started screaming in hysterics on how hard the regulatory field had gotten and wouldn’t Mr. FCC Big Shot please please use his dictatorial government regulation power and fix that market for them?

This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it.

Anonymous Coward says:

There were still some rules in various states also there’s some competition from mobile providers net neutrality is important because it provides rules for isps don’t charge for competing video services or block apps and websites that are legal or reduce acess speeds to competing services
There’s a catch 22 big telecom can block competition by donating to Politicans the only hope is maybe local municipal networks can provide broadband service at a low price to compete with Comcast in more city’s and states many people would be happy with 500gig data at 20meg per second if the price was low per month
Net neutrality is even more important as more people work from home and students learn online the Internet is no longer a luxury its a vital service for ordinary people

TFG says:

Re: Take a breath

I mostly agree with you, my friend – the whole concept of monetary donations to politicians needs to be curtailed, if not dragged into a back alley and shot.

I would suggest, however, utilizing some punctuation in your writing. When reading your post, I could not help but imagine someone trying to say everything quickly, and could not help but think "Breathe, Man!"

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
PaulT (profile) says:

"Because The Internet Didn’t Explode, Killing Net Neutrality Must Not Have Mattered"

Because the internet is slightly larger than the US? When most other markets have NN baked in as a natural part of existing legislation and the US is the only market where it’s even remotely controversial, it’s fairly hard to kill the whole thing because one market sector does something stupid.

"You’ll be surprised to learn that all of these hot takes not only intentionally misrepresent what net neutrality is"

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a comment from anyone talking about NN in a negative way that’s correctly identified what it is.

Kevin Carson (user link) says:

“All of the coordinated stories (likely requested by AT&T and/or Comcast, then funneled through their K Street policy shops to friendly news outlets) …”
Well, considering one of them’s by Robby Soave….
I’m pretty sure “writing coordinated stories requested by corporate donors to be funnelled through their lobbyists to friendly news outlets” is in his actual job description.

Kevin Carson (user link) says:

“All of the coordinated stories (likely requested by AT&T and/or Comcast, then funneled through their K Street policy shops to friendly news outlets) …”
Well, considering one of them’s by Robby Soave….
I’m pretty sure “writing coordinated stories requested by corporate donors to be funnelled through their lobbyists to friendly news outlets” is in his actual job description.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Toom1275 (profile) says:

Re: Self-defeating argument

Right – if you’re not actively defrauding your customers, then Net Neutrality regulations would be absolutely zero burden on you whatsoever, as even the ISPs admitted in the truthful statements*.

  • i.e. not Pai’s whole-cloth fabricated "NN harmed these five small ISPs" propaganda
That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: The ISP's doth protest too much

‘Though I assure you I would never even think about breaking into someone’s house and maybe ‘borrowing’ a few items I must object in the strongest terms against the proposed laws that would make those actions illegal. Even though once again I want to stress that I would never do that and the penalties would only apply to those that did they are still terrible laws that need to be stopped. Because reasons.’

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