Net Neutrality Advocates Are Modern-Day Snake Oil Salesmen
When FCC Chairman Ajit Pai announced plans to repeal the Obama administration’s heavy-handed “net neutrality” regulations, critics acted as if the world were coming to an end. Actual consumers, however, aren’t likely to notice any difference, because the “problem” those rules were supposed to solve has always been wildly exaggerated.
Net neutrality sounds at first blush like a noble goal. Internet service providers shouldn’t, the argument goes, be allowed to favor some traffic over others, either by throttling speeds, charging more or taking any other action that discriminates against bits of data crossing their network.
But to enforce the rules, the Obama administration had to treat ISPs as if they were monopoly phone providers, which let the government not only impose net neutrality requirements, but gave it sweeping authority to regulate everything the ISPs did.
Never mind that, unlike Ma Bell of the 1930s, the internet is highly competitive, with cable, fiber, fixed wireless, satellite and mobile carriers all offering broadband services. Or that the decade before the Obama rules went into effect provided no justification for the rules.
Between 2005 and 2015, average broadband speeds increased by more than 1,150%, FCC data show. Over those same years, average broadband prices remained flat, after adjusting for inflation.
Meanwhile, household broadband penetration went from 30% to almost 80%, according to the Pew Research Center. And this figure doesn’t include households that rely on mobile for their high-speed internet access, a share that has also exploded in recent years.
Where is the consumer harm in any of this?
Yet multiple headlines warned that going back to the world before 2015 would amount to “destroying the internet as we know it.” CNET, for example, warned ominously that “net neutrality repeal means your internet may never be the same.”
But the warnings always are about what ISPs “might do,” not what they’ve actually done, or would have any business justification for doing. In other cases the consumer harm is debatable.