New FCC Commissioner Could Revive Discredited Net Neutrality Effort

Net neutrality is the idea that internet service providers (ISPs) should treat all online data traffic equally, without favoring the delivery of any content, application, or device. While it sounds like a good concept, in practice it looks like the  onerous “net neutrality” regulations that would make the internet worse for all users. Supporters of such “net neutrality” regulations claimed in 2017 that allowing ISPs to manage their traffic would lead to slowdowns and other anti-consumer outcomes. This may have sounded plausible at the time, but as the results have shown, net neutrality is a flawed and harmful policy that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) should not pursue again.

The FCC adopted net neutrality rules in 2015, under the Obama administration, claiming that they were necessary to protect consumers and promote innovation. But in 2017, under the Trump administration, the FCC repealed these rules, arguing that they were unnecessary and burdensome. The repeal was a wise decision that has benefited the internet and its users.

Now, with the FCC breaking its deadlock with the confirmation of Anna Gomez, the specter of net neutrality rulemaking once again casts its shadow on the internet as we know it.

NTU has long been opposed to net neutrality efforts, stating in October 2021:

“On behalf of consumers and taxpayers, members should press… [former FCC nominee Gigi] Sohn on important issues like Title II net neutrality regulations and broadband price controls. Access to affordable broadband has become increasingly important during the pandemic and it is more important than ever for lawmakers to ensure the agency will not revert to heavy-handed internet regulations and failed partisan ideas that would leave consumers worse off.”

Here are three of the top reasons another push for net neutrality are misguided and will hurt consumers:

  • Internet speeds have never been better. Contrary to the fearmongering of net neutrality advocates, who predicted that ISPs would throttle or block certain websites or services after the repeal, there is no evidence of any such behavior. In fact, internet speeds have improved significantly since 2017, reaching record highs in 2021. As of 2023, according to Ookla’s Speedtest Global Index, the average fixed broadband download speed in the U.S. more than doubled and the average mobile download speed nearly doubled. These improvements are due to the increased investment and innovation by ISPs, who have been able to offer more choices and better services to consumers without the constraints of heavy-handed net neutrality regulations.

  • Net neutrality will reduce investment in networks. One of the main arguments for net neutrality is that it will prevent ISPs from charging different prices for different types of data, such as video streaming or online gaming. This is supposed to ensure that all online content providers have equal access to consumers and can compete on a level playing field. But this also means that ISPs have no incentive to invest in upgrading their networks to handle the increasing demand for bandwidth-intensive services. Net neutrality will discourage ISPs from investing in network infrastructure, which will ultimately harm consumers by reducing their quality of service and limiting their options.

  • Net neutrality would inappropriately bend an archaic law in a new direction. The legal basis for net neutrality is the Communications Act of 1934, which was intended for regulating traditional telephone systems.  The FCC used this law to classify ISPs as “common carriers”, which are subject to strict regulations and oversight. But this classification is inappropriate and outdated for the modern internet, which is ever evolving and robust in America. An investigation via Freedom of Information Act request by the Taxpayers Protection Alliance Foundation found few complaints of the “throttling” or the slowing of internet speeds for users within the FCC’s records. Inappropriately applying a century-old  law to a 21st-century industry is a recipe for disaster, as it will stifle innovation and investment at a time of increased global competitiveness. Lack of innovation will lead to reduced internet speeds compared to America’s biggest rivals, which will then lead to reduced competitiveness in a future led by 6G, Internet of Things, and artificial intelligence applications.

The history of disproven rhetoric surrounding the need for net neutrality should demonstrate that the FCC should not proceed along this misguided effort again. It will not protect consumers or promote innovation; it will only harm them by slowing down internet speeds, reducing network investment, and imposing outdated regulations.