Net Neutrality Under Threat

The call for comments on the Net Neutrality policy up for debate is open and has received almost 350,000 comments in the two weeks since it opened on April 26th, 2017. Here’s my response:

What is FCC 17-108?

FCC 17–108Restoring Internet Freedom” is a draft proposal put forward with two principal tenants that are not well-defended. The first tenant, which is unsupported, is that the previous bill, FCC 15–24Protecting and Promoting the Open Internet,” has had a negative impact on “the healthy and competitive development of the enhanced-services industry.” This proposal only uses one questionable source to support this claim. The solitary source supporting this argument is analyzed below.

The second claim is that the examples given in the original FCC 15–24 do were not sufficient evidence to support the FCC passing it in 2015. The proposal fails to defend this allegation. It doesn't bother to refute the claims of those examples. It fails to put forth specific arguments against each of the original examples. Some are even left unmentioned.

Did FCC 15–24 “Protecting and Promoting the Open Internet” have a negative impact on the market?

The authors of FCC 17–108 claim that FCC 15–24 is disrupting the market by discouraging broadband investment rates of large companies. That claim is based on a blog post from March 1st, 2017 by Hal Singer, a senior fellow at the George Washington’s Institute for Public Policy,.

The only source supporting FC 17-108's thesis

A chart that shows an drop in an unweighted average of percentage change of investment from several companies.
This table represents the only significant backing data that FCC 17-108 uses to defend its thesis of a negative market impact

This chart is meant to show one figure meant to show that there was an average decrease of 5.6% for spending in investment from these 12 companies.

This decrease took place in two years after the original FCC 15–24 was enacted. It is based on a survey of the 12 largest telecom companies in the country. The lion’s share of the drop in investment came from two companies, AT&T and Sprint. Besides AT&T and Sprint, investment actually grew by around 2%.

So what this data shows is that AT&T and Sprint decided to decrease their investment on building out infrastructure over that time by 5.6%. This is the data upon which Ajit Pai and the FCC are hanging the claim that the original 15-24 had a negative impact on the telecom market. This is the only specific evidence they provide in support of that claim. In my opinion, it's grossly and offensively insufficient.

“Do these... examples justify the regulatory shift that Title II reclassification entailed?”

In section 50 of FCC 17–108, the authors doubt the quality of the examples outlined in 15–24. Yet are examples in 15-24 which the authors of the repeal did not even address. Footnote 123 of FCC 15–24 references verbal testimony “describing the situation where Comcast exempted its own online video service from data caps when streamed to an Xbox.” The authors of FCC 17–108 should address the specifics of these examples rather than dismissing them without analysis.

Conclusion

It’s improbable that anyone will be able to mount substantive defense of the claims made in the original “Restoring Internet Freedom” in time. I urge the FCC to end discussion on the possibility that FCC 17–108 will be adopted in the very near term and with a resounding “No.”

Follow up

Today, on Friday, April 20th, 2018, almost one year after I originally wrote this post, FCC 17-108 has garnered the most comments of any FCC proceeding to date. The current official number is 23,950,695, with over 1,000 being place in the last 30 days. Despite the strong public outcry on this topic, the FCC passed 17-108 on December 14th, 2017. The vote was 3-2 along party lines, with Ajit Pai casting the decisive vote. Truly an alarming day for the country when someone with such a flimsy argument can change the course of history. Despite the largest public outcry on any issue in FCC history, Ajit Pai and his two supporters in the FCC decided to ignore public sentiment. That is deeply undemocratic. Read the statements of the two members of the FCC counsil who voted against the bill here.

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