By Roslyn Layton
Netroots activists and the liberal media have played loose with the facts and misled the public on the Federal Communications Commission agenda all year long.
While these groups continue to spread misinformation about net neutrality policy and Title II — their favorite issues to fundraise on with scare tactics and by spreading misinformation — they disingenuously ignored the dozens of pro-consumer actions of the FCC has taken in its first 100 days under Republican Chairman Ajit Pai and instead continually resort to launching personal attacks on Pai.
Reactions to the highly anticipated action to restore internet freedom by the commission has unfortunately been no different. Even before the FCC officially released the item, these same left-leaning skeptics have portended doom. But many of their egregious statements can’t withstand the truth test. It’s time to take a hard look at the facts.
Giving Consumers Control
The Washington Post’s Brian Fung wrongly observes that restoring internet freedom “could reshape the entire digital ecosystem by giving internet providers more control over what their customers can see and access online and how quickly they can do it.” In actuality, the move will give consumers control.
The FCC used its 2015 Open Internet Order as a form of rate regulation and price controls, making end users bear the full cost of broadband, while the largest content providers enjoyed a free ride. Removing the antiquated regulation from the innovative internet ecosystem will allow the emergence of flexible pricing, so that consumers have choices in how they enjoy content, whether for free, sponsored by providers, or paid outright.
The largest content providers will no longer get government-guaranteed free rides on networks. This likely means that consumers will enjoy lower-priced, more tailored and higher-value subscriptions. Just as Uber disrupted the collusion between regulators and the taxi industry, restoring internet freedom puts consumers in charge of broadband, not regulators.
The New York Times’ Cecilia Kang suggests that the Federal Trade Commission would not be an adequate regulator for the internet because it “traditionally has not brought many cases” against operators. Kang is wrong on two counts.
Takes Aim at Uncompetitive Practices
The FTC has brought dozens of cases against broadband and internet providers for uncompetitive practices. The most significant net neutrality charge in terms of scope and financial impact is against AT&T Mobility, a charge brought by the FTC, not the FCC, for throttling data on unlimited plans.
Moreover, the FTC holds a broader, holistic view of the internet, allowing it to consider the effect of harmful practices to the larger digital ecosystem. This framework also provides more layers of enforcement at the federal and state levels. The FTC is the expert consumer protection agency with the resources, functions and abilities to best protect consumers in ways the FCC, by statute, cannot do.
In The Verge, Jacob Kastrenakes calls the FCC’s effort “the least popular proposal of the year,” citing 22 million comments in the record, suggesting that popularity should be a metric to drive America’s expert telecom regulator. The entire premise of regulation exacted by independent regulators with expertise in their area is to insulate it from politics.
The FCC should be independent by definition. The FCC only collects comments as a formality from the 1945 Administrative Procedure Act, the goal of which is merely to gather “expert” public comments, not to conduct a plebiscite.
Closing the Digital Divide
While The Verge would like its readers to believe that the 22 million comments reflect some groundswell of democratic support, millions are known fakes or computer generated, millions more support the FCC’s proposal, and they do not include comments from the millions who are not online, largely the poor, old and people of color. Ending Title II will stimulate investment needed to end the digital divide and ensure that all Americans can access the internet.
Finally, Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Corynne McSherry and Elliott Harmon suggest that so-called “fast lanes” and “paid prioritization,” top concerns for supposed net neutrality advocates, harm consumers. It is a fact that the FCC cannot find any real world examples of these practices harming consumers. Moreover, because of the competitive nature of mobile marketplace these days, mobile broadband and internet service providers will not slow content in the future because it puts their customer base at risk if they don’t provide the best service possible.
Netroots advocates, anti-market ideologues and the leftist media have been relentless in their takedown of the return to a light-touch, market-based framework for regulation that allowed the internet to thrive for over two decades. As the FCC gears up to vote on repeal of the 2015 regulations on December 14, we must show the same relentlessness in fact-checking opponents. In doing so, it is clear that you need only look at the success of the framework the FCC is restoring — established under President Bill Clinton — to understand that this is a good move for competition in the marketplace, consumer protection and the future of innovation.
About the Author
Roslyn Layton is a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. She was appointed by the Trump administration to oversee the FCC transition, along with Jeffrey Eisenach, a visiting scholar at AEI. She wrote this for InsideSources.com.