Myths About Net Neutrality

This is the first post I’ve written in a long while, but it is a critical one.

By the time you read this, it will be the internet-wide Day of Action in order to preserve net neutrality rules. Like most people, I fully believe that net neutrality is absolutely essential to protecting an open Internet. The current net neutrality rules aren’t perfect, but the stance taken by the FCC is disastrous.

The plan is to remove telecom industries from Title II classification, meaning the FCC would have no authority to either issue or enforce net neutrality rules, effectively killing them.

The telecom lobbyists (supported by their lobbying partners in the content industries) have been pumping out misinformation left and right. Their propaganda is then repeated by the think tanks they fund, with the usual gang of useful idiots in tow. It’s a lame attempt to give the false impression that their viewpoints are supported by the general public.

So, on this day, I can think of no better topic than this.

Myth: Net neutrality is a divisive topic

The telecom industries and their proxies have been trying their hardest to portray net neutrality supporters as kooks who represent a minority of the public.

Unfortunately for them, and fortunately for everyone, they’re wrong. There is probably no topic in our current political climate that is less divisive. Net neutrality is supported by the majority of Americans, from across all political spectrums.

For example, this survey conducted by Mozilla shows that a whopping 76% of Americans support net neutrality – 81% of Democrats, and 73% of Republicans.

And, earlier this week, a poll conducted by Freedman Consulting shows that 77% of those surveyed supported net neutrality. There was majority support among all political demographics, with with 80% of Democrats, 73% of Republicans, and 76% of independents in favor.

Not to mention that net neutrality is supported by a ton of public interest groups, such as Change.org, Greenpeace, MoveOn.org, Fight for the Future, Demand Progress, the EFF, 18 Million Rising, the Action Network, and Access Now. It also includes organizations as politically diverse as NARAL and The Nation.

In the meantime – where is the grassroots support for abolishing Title II classification? Nowhere to be found. Not unless you count the hundreds of thousands of fraudulent comments sent to the FCC’s site.

These were almost certainly submitted by a bot; in any case, they weren’t submitted by the dead people whose names were on the comments. It was almost certainly perpetrated by someone in the telecom’s pockets, but we can’t know for sure, because the FCC refuses to do anything about it, and said it will count the fraudulent comments as legitimate.

Simply put, by abolishing net neutrailty, the FCC is giving a big middle finger to the people of America.

Myth: Net neutrality mostly benefits Internet giants

Net neutrality not only has widespread support among the general public, it has support from pretty much every company that relies on an open Internet – smaller ones especially.

The opponents of net neutrality like to claim that this is just another stunt by huge Internet corporations (usually, Google). But the truth is that this didn’t originate with Internet giants, and those that joined did so very late in the game.

Facebook, for example, partnered with mobile providers to get internet to poorer nations, but it was only a “walled garden” in the form of their Free Basics service (aka “internet.org”). The service was banned in India under its net neutrality rules, and was heavily criticized by Mozilla and others.

Similarly, Google has been pretty much silent on net neutrality since about 2010. Even back then, they only supported a watered-down version of net neutrality that didn’t include mobile telecommunications. (This is the one we have now.) They have also supported Facebook’s initiative, working against net neutrality in India and other regions.

Don’t get me wrong. Their participation now is more than welcome. But this does not mean that net neutrality primarily benefits companies like them. It means that life without Title II classification is so horrible, even these companies are against it.

On the other hand, take another look at the other organizations who are participating in this Day of Action. Most of the companies could hardly be considered “Internet giants.” Well, not unless you think sites like DuckDuckGo, Reddit, BoingBoing, OK Cupid, AdBlock, Urban Dictionary, College Humor, Cracked, Dread Central, Bloody Disgusting, MetalSucks, or High Times are “Internet giants.”

Myth: The proposed rules don’t gut net neutrality

The telecom mouthpieces have been arguing that the Title II reclassification isn’t really gutting net neutrality. It’s just putting it under a different agency, which will take care of it themselves.

This is utter bullshit, and we know it’s utter bullshit, because we’ve already seen what happens when telecoms are classified under Title I.

Net neutrality rules were first codified in 2010. At that time, telecoms were under Title I classification – just like the current FCC proposes. When the 2010 FCC’s net neutrality rules came out, Verizon sued the FCC, claiming that they didn’t have the legal authority enforce net neutrality rules unter Title I.

Verizon won that lawsuit. And that is why, after a long fight by grassroots organizations in Washington, broadband was put under Title II classification in 2015.

Of course, FCC chairmain Adjit Pai should know this, since he was the former senior legal council for Verizon. (As an aside, he also used to work for Jenner & Block – yes, that Jenner & Block.)

But, what about the notion that net neutrality is better handled by the FTC, rather than the FCC? I’ll let former FCC chairman Tom Wheeler explain that one.

It’s a fraud. […]

Actually, I was going through some papers this weekend and I ran across a September 2013 article in the Washington Post, the headline of which was something to the effect: “Here’s how the networks plan to defang the FCC.” It quoted all of the cable and telephone company Washington office heads saying that really the consumer protection and competition work of the FCC should be transferred to the FTC, the Federal Trade Commission. It’s no surprise where they want to transfer.

The FTC doesn’t have rule-making authority. They’ve got enforcement authority, and their enforcement authority is whether or not something is unfair or deceptive. First, the only regulation that they would be subject to would be an adjudicatory finding that it’s unfair or deceptive, one. Two, you got this agency over here, the FCC, that is constantly worrying about all things in telecom. The FTC has to worry about everything from computer chips to bleach labeling. Of course, you’d want to get lost in that morass. We’re, “Okay. We will get to that. We got to get bleach labeling taken care of first.” This was the strategy all along.

What surprises me, no, what doesn’t surprise me is that, then the Trump transition team, which is basically folks from the American Enterprise Institute […] who were long time supporters of this concept, come in and say, “Oh, we oughta, we oughta do away with this.”

This is not just empty rhetoric. Throughout the entire history of the Internet, the FTC has never even attempted to enforce any kind of net neutrality.

Myth: The internet always operated without Title II classification

This is a myth that has been bandied about, not just by telecom shills, but by FCC chairman Pai himself in quotes like these:

Ultimately, my hope is that a return to that bipartisan, Clinton-era light-touch approach, one that served us well for 20 years, is going to be one that finds bipartisan support again.

Except that’s utter bullshit. If we want a “Clinton-era” approach, we’ll need to stick with Title II classification.

All ISP’s were originally classified as Title II common carriers under the 1996 Telecommunications Act. It wasn’t until 2002 that former FCC chairmain Michael Powell bent to lobbying pressure and reclassified cable modems as Title I “information services.” He was obviously rewarded for his efforts, and went on to become the head of the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, where he would speak out repeatedly against net neutrality rules.

Even so, these rules didn’t immediately go into effect. That was because after the FCC rules, cable companies didn’t have to give bandwitdth to “last-mile” ISP’s. This resulted in the National Cable & Telecommunications Ass’n v. Brand X, a case which made it to the Supreme Court. In 2005, the Supreme Court gave deference to the FCC, and the rules stood.

So later that year, the FCC classified dial-up and DSL as Title I information services as well.

It’s only since 2005 that ISP’s have been classified under Title I, and it was barely five years later that the FCC codified net neutrality rules.

Myth: Title II classification hurts broadband investment

This is a myth this is commontly trotted out by telecom lobbyists. At least, it is in front of politicians. Privately, they admit that it doesn’t harm investment at all.

Read statements from Chief Executive Tom Rutledge at Charter Communications. Pay attention to the fact that Comcast is rolling out new gigabit internet in Nashville, Chicago, Detroit, and Miami. Watch as companies like Comcast, AT&T and Verizon are spending billions in possibly the biggest spectrum auction ever.

In fact, many studies show that broadband investment increased under Title II classification.

You know when broadband investment did take a nosedive? When broadband was classified under Title I:

USTelecomCapex-1024x589.jpg

As for smaller ISPs? Over 40 of them sent a letter to Pai stating that Title II has not hurt their businesses at all.

Myth: Things were fine without net neutrality

The telecom industry shills claim that without these net neutrality rules, things were just fine and dandy. Why, they ask, do we need to fix what aint’ broke?

To put it plainly: things often were broken. Here’s a list of net neutrality violations that have happened over the years:

If the FCC succeeds in rolling back Title II classification, you can expect all of these practices to be standard operating procedure.

This is why everyone, everywhere, needs to support the current net neutrality rules.

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