from the repetition-forges-reality dept
Since the very beginning of the net neutrality debate, ISPs have repeatedly (and falsely) proclaimed that net neutrality rules (read: stopgap rules crafted in the absence of competition to stop giant monopolies from abusing their power) utterly demolished broadband sector investment. It was a primary talking point during the battle over the flimsy 2010 rules, utilized extensively during the 2015 passage of slightly tougher rules, and was foundational in the Trump FCC’s arguments justifying their hugely unpopular and fraud prone repeal of those rules.
Time after time after time, big ISPs (and the politicians and regulators paid to love them) lied and claimed that the modest rules (by international standards) had crushed sector investment. Then, when the rules were repealed, they again lied that this had triggered a massive new investment wave. Never mind that countless different studies showed the rules had no impact on investment. If that wasn’t enough, it was repeatedly confirmed by ISP earnings reports, and the public statements of numerous CEOs that this claim was never true.
It’s a lie, the folks pushing it know it’s a lie, but they just keep repeating it so it’s cemented as gospel among the alternative facts set.
With net neutrality potentially getting restored at the Biden FCC (assuming they can get around to appointing a new Democratic Commissioner), the lie is being trotted out again by Trump’s last-minute FCC appointment, Nathan Simington. Speaking over at the Free State Foundation on Wednesday, Simington once again trotted out the old, reliable bogeyman:
“…my biggest worry about Title II is really that, after a few years of chilling effects on infrastructure construction, we will find ourselves in an entirely avoidable and artificial broadband infrastructure crisis.”
So one, we’re already in a crisis now caused by decades of shitty state and federal leadership and monopolization. The previous FCC gutted most FCC consumer protection authority right before a pandemic, leaving it unable to adequately police everything from privacy violations to billing fraud. And it turned a blind eye as the telecom industry used bogus statistics (and even fake or dead people to provide bogus support for it). It also literally did absolutely nothing to meaningfully address the stranglehold regional monopolies like AT&T and Comcast have over the market.
If Simington was really concerned about the idea that reclassifying ISPs as common carriers under Title II harmed infrastructure investment, there’s just an ocean of data disproving the claim that should have put his mind at ease. The same day Simington was giving his speech, consumer groups like Free Press were testifying before Congress, using reams of research data showing this lie isn’t true. In fact, several of the ISPs that were given tens of billions in tax breaks and subsidies during the Trump era for literally doing nothing trimmed overall investment:
“In fact, investment declined every year of Chairman Pai?s tenure. AT&T investment dropped 20 percent in 2020, and 52 percent from its peak in the last year for the Obama FCC. Comcast?s dropped 4 and half percent last year, down 22 percent from 2016. But even if deregulation alone had increased deployment ? and it didn?t ? buildout alone would not lower price or increase adoption in the absence of competition, oversight, and more robust adoption subsidies.”
Again, this isn’t a “he said, she said” scenario. SEC filings, earnings reports, CEO statements, and numerous studies all show net neutrality rules (which again had the overwhelming bipartisan majority of public support) neither harmed, nor spurred, meaningful broadband investment. As somebody that has covered this sector for twenty years, I assure you the lack of broadband investment in the United States has two primary causes: rampant state and federal corruption (regulatory capture), and monopolization.
Obvious problems folks like Simington (much like freshly-departed FCC boss Ajit Pai) either downplay or refuse to acknowledge whatsoever.
Most of these folks know they’re parroting a lie, but they continue to do it anyway because in the US media environment, it continues to work. Bloomberg, for example, was quick to write an entire story parroting the falsehood, even going so far as to repeat the lie, unchallenged, in a headline. So as the latest net neutrality debate heats up once again, don’t expect the press, or many of the folks who think “let Comcast do whatever it wants” is real policy, to meaningfully change their stripes.