Top Seven Lies, Exaggerations, and Misstatements About the FCC Plan to Restore Internet Freedom

Proponents of heavy government regulation of internet networks are loudly and wrongly insisting that the FCC plan to reverse its current “Title II” internet regulations will “end the internet as we know it” and bring cyberspace, social media, and apparently even democracy itself to a screeching halt. They have held over-the-top rallies, conference calls and briefings chock full of misinformation and some downright ugly rhetoric – turning an important debate into a free for all where only the loudest voice seems to get heard.

And yet, when you look under the hood of the actual arguments being made, it’s clear there’s no there there.  Like the almost forgotten panic over Y2K, the Title II proponents will find that, if the FCC pulls back on Title II, the internet will continue to thrive, free and open for all.

Broadband providers have pledged to support net neutrality no matter what course the FCC should take.  They have committed to the core principles of no blocking, no throttling, and no unfair discrimination.  No matter what.

The only disagreement here is over the separate issue of “Title II” regulation and whether it’s the right way to keep the internet open and boost investment and innovation in broadband.

Much of the confusion results from the hyperbolic claim that the FCC plans a radical change for the internet when in fact it simply seeks to restore the same light-touch “Title I” framework under which it grew and thrived from 1996-2015, a time when the internet economy blossomed and search, social media, streaming music and video all emerged.  Or the even more pernicious lie that the only way to keep the internet free and open is to stick with Title II.

Those claims – like many other in this debate – are simply false.

The internet was open and free before Title II, and it will remain that way if Title II is repealed.

Myth #1:   If the FCC’s order is approved, say goodbye to the free and open internet!

Reality:     The FCC’s order repeals the Title II utility rules enacted in 2015, putting back in place the same light-touch framework the internet thrived under for the last two decades.  But Title II is not the same thing as net neutrality and net neutrality will remain after the FCC acts, in both principle and in practice. Broadband providers have publicly committed, again and again and again, to the core net neutrality principles of no blocking, no throttling, and no unfair discrimination.  And the FCC proposal requires them to clearly and publicly disclose their policies in these areas – commitments enforceable by the FCC, the FTC, DOJ, and state attorneys general.  Any ISP breaching such commitments would face heavy fines and penalties – to say nothing of a customer revolt.  Antitrust and fair competition authorities will also police the marketplace, clamping down on any anti-competitive prioritization or other harmful practices.  So the next time a Title II zealot tells you net neutrality will “go away,” a healthy dose of skepticism is warranted.

Myth #2:   If the FCC repeals net neutrality, our internet will be carved up into packages like Portugal’s!

Reality: You’ve probably seen this one – claims of an imminent Iberian nightmare if the FCC repeals Title II.

One problem with this argument: As an EU member, Portugal does have net neutrality.  That’s largely why Snopes rated this claim “Mostly False.”

If that weren’t enough, the purported Portugal “example” actually has nothing to do with alleged blocking, throttling, or fast lanes – the issues we understand as relevant to net neutrality in the US.  It’s actually about “zero rating” practices that let mobile customers use some apps and services without having the data count against their plans.  Yet the current Title II rules that these critics are clinging to at the FCC don’t prohibit zero rating, and programs like T-Mobile’s Binge On offering are hugely popular with consumers.  So the next time you hear an outlandish “that can’t be true” claim about the impact of the FCC internet freedom plan, remember Portugal, and proceed with caution!

Myth #3:   ISPs are internet gatekeepers who can blockade your access to applications and the web

Reality:    Broadband providers are committed to delivering the entire internet and would not have any customers if they arbitrarily limited or censored what their customers can do online.  Indeed, many observers are starting to realize that the real threat to neutrality, openness, and fairness online comes from the so-called edge providers who curate, profile, data mine, and shape what Americans do and don’t see on the internet.

While Americans use many different internet providers during the day (home, work, mobile, public hotspot) there is only one Google, one Facebook, one Twitter.  Google controls 93% of the mobile search market and half of all digital advertising, while by contrast, the nation’s largest fixed ISP controls just 25% of the residential market.

And these edge giants are the true purveyors of discrimination, prioritization, and manipulation of the user experience online.  Google was just fined $2.7 billion by the EU for favoring its own products in search results.  And it didn’t learn its lesson and just announced plans to block YouTube on Amazon devices for its own business reasons.  Amazon has a patent to block customers from using Wi-Fi in its stores to check rivals’ prices online.  And Twitter recently blocked a Tennessee Republican Congresswoman’s Senate video campaign announcement.  Yet these are the loudest voices demanding rules for internet providers that they routinely flout in their own businesses.

Myth #4:   Repealing Title II will hurt colleges and threaten online learning programs.

 

Reality:     Some activists have argued that utility rules are needed to support video-heavy distance learning platforms.  Again, they ignore the fact that many of these platforms emerged, grew, and thrived long before those rules were imposed in 2015. Udacity was founded in 2011; EdX and Coursera emerged in 2012.  All three platforms successfully grew and thrived before the Title II order, and they will continue to thrive if the FCC restores the light-touch, pro-innovation framework that was in place when these services were created.

In fact, Title II is a particular threat to these bandwidth-heavy applications, which require sustained heavy investment in network infrastructure.  Broadband providers have invested more than $1.6 trillion to build our nation’s networks, and continue to make huge investments each year to maintain and expand this infrastructure.  Getting rid of Title II’s outdated utility rules will clear the way for more of this much-needed investment.

Myth #5:   The FTC can’t protect consumers online because the federal courts took away its power to do so in the “FTC v. AT&T Mobility” Case.

Reality:     This is legal error stuck in time – while a single “panel” of the Ninth Circuit federal appeals court briefly ruled that the FTC could not regulate broadband providers, the full court has overruled that decision.  The case is still pending, but an overwhelming majority of legal experts expect the case to leave the FTC’s power over broadband providers in place.  Even those outlets hoping to undermine Chairman Pai’s plan to empower FTC enforcement of net neutrality admit there is a “strong possibility” the FTC’s enforcement power endures.

Myth #6:   Russian bots infiltrated the FCC and hijacked the public comments to destroy net neutrality! 

Reality:     Here’s the true part:  nearly 450,000 comments in this proceeding were submitted to the FCC’s Electronic Comment Filing System from individuals claiming to live in Russia.

But here’s what they didn’t tell you – nearly all of these opposed Chairman Pai’s proposal.

A comprehensive analysis of all 22 million comments submitted to the FCC found more than 1.7 million submitted from international addresses – with 99.4% of these foreign submissions opposing repeal.  And when you strip away the fake and foreign comments, it turns out that more than two-thirds of credible submissions supported repeal of Title II.

These are not new issues.  In the Internet age, the FCC has had a difficult time managing public comments when many are cookie-cutter filings submitted through internet forms and online advocacy campaigns.  In fact it happened when then-Chairman Tom Wheeler adopted Title II in 2015.

But the mass submissions on both sides of the debate do not undermine the FCC process.  The Commission is an expert agency that is skilled at sifting a complex record and evaluating the various arguments presented.  It doesn’t make decisions based on how many form comments it receives on one side or the other.  An FCC proceeding isn’t Dancing With The Stars.  The agency is required to develop a complete and comprehensive legal and factual record and consider a wide diversity of views.  But they are also experts and sift that record for the factual and legal presentations that cogently address the key issues at stake.

In this proceeding, the FCC has clearly assembled a complete record reflecting all arguments and viewpoints.  And unlike the 2015 Open Internet Order – which even the chief economist under then-Chairman Tom Wheeler ridiculed as an “economics-free zone” – the Commission today has rooted its new draft Order in a mountain of economic evidence pointing to the negative impact Title II utility rules are having on broadband investment – particularly for small, rural, and non-profit municipal broadband providers.

Myth #7:   ISPs violated net neutrality for years before the FCC rules were put in place, and repealing these rules will return us to the bad old days! 

Reality:     This simply isn’t true.  During the many years before the FCC adopted its heavy-handed Title II rules in 2015, the internet thrived, innovated, and grew.  And the dystopian hellscape without free expression or innovation scared up by Title II diehards has never existed.  As Judge Silberman pointed out during the Verizon litigation, “That the Commission was able to locate only four potential examples of [net neutrality related misconduct] is, frankly, astonishing. In such a large industry where . . . billions of connections are formed between users and edge providers each year, one would think there should be ample examples of just about any type of conduct.”

While the Title II interest groups have worked mightily to identify supposed “examples” of net neutrality violations, those have been thoroughly debunked.  In the single-digit number of cases where the FCC took corrective action, the issues were resolved quickly and usually with the cooperation of the internet providers involved.

All without any recourse to or need for Title II – or the substantial consumer costs those rules impose.  The truth is, there is virtually no concrete benefit to consumers from Title II utility rules in a world with virtually no documented net neutrality violations or harms and where internet providers have already committed to openness and transparency, while there are significant costs.  It’s no gain all pain regulation.