Leftists claimed that repealing net neutrality would be the end of the world as we know it, that the Internet would load one word at a time, and that everything we know and love about the Internet would be burned to ashes.
Now that we’re more than a year out, it couldn’t be clearer that the doom and gloom rhetoric surrounding the repeal was wrong. The Internet survived the repeal and is thriving because of it.
Repeal didn’t slow down the Internet. One year later, in 2018 the average download speeds increased more than 35 percent and upload speeds went up by 22 percent from the previous year. Unlike what the Left wanted you to believe, repeal clearly did not “break the Internet.”
Most importantly, despite the fuss we saw surrounding the net neutrality debate, following repeal broadband providers didn’t drastically hurt the delivery of content like the Left feared. Consumers continue to be protected by the Federal Trade Commission, an agency with a long history of effective consumer protection.
Clearly the Obama-era FCC’s decision to impose the so-called net neutrality regulations was not designed to spur economic growth. One economist found that all wireline Internet Service Providers’ capital expenditures plummeted an average of 12 percent in the first half of 2015 when the Obama-era regulations were imposed compared to the first half of 2014.
The net neutrality regulations also prompted $3.3 billion in capital flight in the six largest ISPs alone — costing 20 American jobs per million dollar in capital flight. Other studies found that if the FCC hadn’t repealed the onerous regulations, nearly 174,000 broadband related jobs would be at risk by 2020 as a result of the decline in investment created by the regulations.
The good news is that investment is rebounding after the FCC repealed the Obama-era regulations. A study released by USTelecom shows that broadband providers’ capital expenditures started to “decline in 2015, accelerated in 2016, and returned to growth in 2017.” The study pointed out that the market rebound coincides with Pai’s regulatory repeal.
Despite the Internet’s continued growth in the wake of repeal, leftists are challenging the FCC this week in the U.S. Court of Appeals, claiming that the FCC lacked jurisdiction.
What critics fail to note is that by repealing the regulations, Chairman Ajit Pai’s FCC returned to decades-long precedent. ISPs received light-touch regulation beginning under the Clinton administration. But, under the Obama administration, the FCC made the legal definition of ISPs a Title II service under the veil of “net neutrality.”
The Obama-era “net neutrality” decision did not even accomplish the goal of a free and open internet. Actual net neutrality would ensure that winners and losers aren’t picked by regulators, but the consumers in the market itself. But by classifying ISPs as a public utility, the government pushed the market to favor some providers but not all.
If ISPs engage in consumer harm, the FTC has all of the tools at their disposal to adjudicate claims of harm without utility-style regulation. The repeal returns to the framework that created a flourishing Internet that saw the growth of innovations from the gigabyte to video streaming services.
While the numbers show that the market lost out big time after the Obama FCC imposed “net neutrality” regulations, there is also an intangible cost to the net neutrality fight. The time and resources used for “net neutrality” could have been used to help close the digital divide, get us closer to winning the race to 5G, and addressing concerns about data privacy. Thankfully the current FCC is shifting its focus to goals that keep the United States a global leader in connectivity while ensuring that regulations do not get in the way of deploying next-generation technologies.
Americans deserve much better than a petty regulatory fight over legal definitions. The constant battle on net neutrality underscores that ultimately, we will need legislation that reaffirms Pai’s stance toward Internet freedom. Americans simply can’t afford to play regulatory ping-pong between the FCC and the FTC, relitigating net neutrality every time a new administration comes into office.
Demri Scott is a Technology and Telecommunications Policy Fellow at Digital Liberty, a sister organization of Americans for Tax Reform.