Questions about Net Neutrality Opponents Still Can't Answer

As the opponents of Net Neutrality continue their desperate attempts to thwart the FCC from beginning a rulemaking on the issue, we decided it might be helpful for readers to see for themselves the kinds of pretzel-like arguments they’ve twisted themselves into. Here are five fundamental questions Net Neutrality opponents have failed to answer:

1. Is Network Neutrality "a solution in search of a problem," or do service providers need to violate Net Neutrality to justify their investments?

Opponents have long argued that Net Neutrality is "a solution in search of a problem," claiming they have no intention to interfere or discriminate. Yet at the same time, they say they could not bear to be subjected to such rules because it would stifle their ability to manage their networks. They can’t have it both ways – and, unsurprisingly, neither argument is true. Comcast has already been caught red-handed blocking file-sharing applications that compete with its core cable TV business; and all of the major ISPs have all but announced their intention degrade or block competing content if allowed to do so. Net Neutrality rules will prevent such an occurrence, while still ensuring a smooth operating network. There’s nothing about Net Neutrality that would prevent lawful and reasonable network management.

2. What business models are the phone and cable companies attempting to preserve by opposing Net Neutrality?

Opponents say that Net Neutrality would restrict their ability to develop new business models. Yet they've failed to provide any details into what these new models entail, or how Net Neutrality would block these hypothetical new models. What we do know, however, is that these same providers are investing in Deep Packet Inspection equipment that would allow them to snoop on Internet traffic. Without Net Neutrality, they could monitor and monetize every use of the Internet, undermining its fundamentally open nature.

3. How exactly will Network Neutrality “widen” the digital divide or "halt" network investment?

Many opponents of Net Neutrality allege that the rules would slow the pace of broadband adoption by raising the price paid by Internet users. They also claim rules would stifle investment and limit jobs. The incumbent’s explanations on why these outcomes would occur are contradictory: On one hand, incumbents claim that without the ability to generate new revenues from as-of-yet unexplained new discriminatory business practices, they won’t have any incentive to invest. On the other hand, they say that without the ability to discriminate, they’ll be forced to invest in new capacity and will pass these costs onto consumers in the form of higher prices.

But the actions of the very companies attacking Net Neutrality dispute the companies’ claims about its impact. First, all available data shows that Net Neutrality will not have a negative impact on investment, and will likely encourage it as it will preclude providers from profiting from artificial scarcity. Back in 2006, AT&T was required to respect Net Neutrality as a condition of its merger with SBC. In the next two years under Net Neutrality, the company’s overall gross investment increased by $1.8 billion — more than any other ISP’s in America.

Second, the big incumbents opposed to Net Neutrality have for years earned extremely healthy profits but did not use this wealth to close the digital divide by lowering prices or building out to rural areas. In fact, there is an ominous trend developing of incumbents choosing to sell off their networks in rural service areas rather than bringing them broadband.

The reality is the incumbents operating under Net Neutrality will still continue to earn ridiculous amounts of profit, and they will continue to invest as the normal cost of doing business. The answer to closing the digital divide is more competition — not more power for the biggest ISPs. And if Net Neutrality has any impact on network investment, it will almost certainly be positive. There is no doubt that without Net Neutrality, investment in the broader Internet applications and content markets will be substantially harmed.

4. How is the FCC "rushing to regulate"?

Many opponents claim that the FCC is “rushing” into the regulatory process, and/or proposing rules without considering a “full record.” Any seasoned Net Neutrality observer knows these issues have been debated for many years. It’s been going on so long, in fact, that some of the major players have switched sides. AT&T, for instance, used to fight for Net Neutrality – before it merged with BellSouth, anyway. And some of the most outspoken corporate mouthpieces, like NetCompetition.org’s Scott Cleland, were pro-Net Neutrality, when that was the position that paid the mortgage.

The FCC has a long record on the issue — including thousands and thousands of comments in the 2007 Comcast proceeding. And those complaining now were conspicuously silent on questions of FCC process in the past. Complaints about a “rush” are just attempts to delay and distract from the agency’s clear mandate to act on this crucial issue.

5. Why, after accusing net neutrality supporters of attempting to "regulate the Internet," is AT&T itself proposing rules that would actually do so?

Open Internet supporters have long combated the false claims of companies like AT&T that Net Neutrality would result in harsh new regulation of the Internet. The truth is Net Neutrality — or nondiscrimination rules — has been part of the Internet since its inception. And the proposals on the table at the FCC would only apply to Internet service providers, not the content that rides on top, whether created by a little guy or Ma Bell.

Yet in a bizarre twist, AT&T recently started advocating for applying Net Neutrality rules to Internet content. Somehow a single company has managed to be for Net Neutrality before and after it was against it. AT&T’s claims and scare tactics can no longer be taken seriously.

These are just a few highlights of the hypocrisy that is so rampant among Net Neutrality opponents. If you are tired of these shenanigans, tell the FCC you support their efforts.

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