Issues & Insights

One Year Later: The Internet Thrives Without ‘Net Neutrality’

I & I Editorial

It’s been a full year since the FCC repealed “net neutrality.” And how have the predictions of doom and gloom held up? 

In the short time these Obama-imposed rules were in effect, the regulations suddenly became the only thing standing between a vibrant internet and a hellscape of greedy Internet Service Providers blocking access to sites, creating slow lanes, making it impossible for new entrants to get a foothold.

From every corner of the news media and advocacy world, we heard how repealing these onerous rules “would be the final pillow in (the internet’s) face” (The New York Times), would cause “erosion of the biggest free-speech platform the world has ever known” (ACLU), and would be “end of the internet as we know it” (CNN).

One of the Democratic commissioners on the FCC predicted that the net neutrality repeal would “green light our nation’s largest broadband providers to engage in anti-consumer practices, including blocking, slowing down traffic, and paid prioritization of online applications and services.”

Net neutrality’s advocates were so fearful of the internet’s demise that they staged numerous protests, and even issued death threats to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai.

Thankfully, Pai and the other non-ideologues on the commission prevailed. And the rules imposed by Obama, which had been in effect for all of a year or so, were overturned. That repeal officially went into effect on June 11, 2018.

Well, here we are, one year later. 

The internet is still functioning. In fact, it’s better than ever. Last year, average internet download speeds shot up almost 36%, and upload speeds climbed 22%, according to internet speed-test company Ookla in its latest U.S. broadband report.

There are more users than ever. More videos to watch. More content to consume. More commerce being conducted. No sites are being blocked. No one is complaining that their service is being throttled. And more people are gaining access to broadband.

During President Trump’s first year in office, in fact, the number of people without access to a broadband connection dropped by 18%.

Meanwhile, the 5G era approaches, which will increase speeds — for mobile and fixed broadband — exponentially while injecting more competition among providers.  Elon Musk’s SpaceX has started launching mini-satellites for his Starlink initiative, which will provide broadband internet to subscribers wherever they are on the planet. 

It all means more competition among ISPs for consumers. Since the entire justification for government intervention was the (dubious) claim that there’s no competition among internet service providers, these developments alone doom the case for a heavy-handed scheme of government regulations imposed in the name of the consumer. 

And as to the warnings about free speech: To the extent that free speech is being impeded on the internet, it isn’t coming from the Internet Service Providers like Comcast or Cox, but from Big Tech companies like Facebook, Google, YouTube, and Twitter. They, not the ISPs, are the ones restricting access to content they don’t like, removing it altogether, or making it unprofitable.

Yet, incredibly, the net neutrality fight isn’t over. 

Democrats passed a Save the Internet Act in the House earlier this year, after which Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) declared it “dead on arrival.”

Dozens of state attorneys general, advocacy groups and tech companies are suing the government to overturn the FCC’s repeal. 

Republicans have made it clear that they would accept some lesser form of net neutrality regulations if Democrats were willing to compromise. 

Thankfully, net neutrality zealots themselves will likely prevent any such deal from happening. When Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) said she’s willing to make a deal, Fight for the Future — a net neutrality advocacy group — put billboards up in her home state declaring that “Sinema is Corrupt” because she’s “siding with corporate donors to kill net neutrality so you pay more for worse internet.”

We can only hope that Congress remains gridlocked for the time being. After all, the case for imposing any net neutrality rules diminishes day by day as the horror stories about fail to materialize.

— Written by John Merline

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