Since the 1990s, there has been controversy over whether it should be permissible for an Internet Services Provider (ISP) to charge a customer more for faster delivery of its content to its consumers. The theme of every customer’s traffic being treated equally is named Net Neutrality. The FCC twice adopted Net Neutrality regulations to prevent ISPs’ use of tiered pricing to achieve faster content delivery. All along, ISPs were offering residential and small business customers tiers of speed with prices based on download and upload speed. Those favoring Net Neutrality did not object to small businesses paying for and receiving a speed boost – they primarily objected to large content providers getting the speed boost.
Twice the FCC’s regulations were rejected by a federal court on grounds that it lacked the authority to impede ISPs’ pricing. In 2015, following direction from the White House, the FCC decided to avoid another embarrassing court loss by reclassifying ISPs as common carriers under Title II of the 1934 Communications Act. The FCC has used its 1934 Title II authority to subject common carriers to almost a century of oppressive regulations, including those governing pricing and investments. In 2017, the FCC repealed its Net Neutrality regulations and freed ISPs from the common carrier oppression.
Unfortunately, those who favor Net Neutrality believe preposterous allegations of harm that will damage free speech if everyone is not given the same speed of service. Net Neutrality has attracted fake emails in the FCC proceedings. In the latest proceeding to consider Net Neutrality, the “New York attorney general’s office has been reviewing the comments filed at the FCC on net neutrality. It found that “hundreds of thousands” of submissions may have impersonated New York residents.”
In most discussions, the availability of tiers of speeds is ignored because it does not support imagined Net Neutrality harms. Also ignored are the exclusive network arrangements (called Content Delivery Networks, or CDNs) built by the largest content providers (Facebook, Netflix, and others). The content providers that Net Neutrality proponents feared might get faster delivery have already sidestepped the political squabble. They no longer need ISPs to help with faster delivery. Yet Net Neutrality hysteria remains an active populist theme. Pro-Net Neutrality regulation supporters claim its absence will cause the death of the Internet, and open the floodgates to content discrimination.
Companies “see public-relations value in associating themselves with egalitarian digital ideals [and] they are well aware that their employees care deeply about net neutrality as a political issue, even if it doesn’t threaten any bottom lines.”
In the House, Representative Marsha Blackburn has introduced the Open Internet Preservation Act, a bill that would “ban blocking and throttling of content and speeds but allow ISPs to create paid fast lanes and prohibit state governments from enacting their own net neutrality laws. Blackburn’s bill would ban the imposition of common carrier regulations on broadband providers.
In the Senate, Sen. Susan Collins supports a Congressional Review Act (CRA) resolution that would reinstate the FCC’s Net Neutrality rules. The CRA resolution faces dim prospects in the House and would likely be vetoed by President Trump even if it passes both chambers of Congress. Still, embracing Net Neutrality is a cynical ploy that might gain a few populist votes in the mid-term election.
Ironically, Franklin County, located in Senator Collins’ state, proposed a new broadband build that allows neighborhoods to choose the speed at which their part of the network operates. It explicitly ties the price to the speed. Faster speeds will be more pricey — only believers in the tooth fairy might expect otherwise. Ironically, this demonstration in Senator Collins’ area shows that in the real world, choice is beneficial and that faster speeds will cost more and be priced accordingly. It appears that Franklin County missed the social justice epistle on the evil of being willing to pay more for higher speed.