One year, plus

If you’re reading this, the Internet still exists, despite the fact that the Restoring Internet Freedom Order, adopted by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in December, has gone into effect. In short, the order means that net neutrality principles will now be enforced by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), rather than the FCC. This is a return to the light-touch framework that governed the Internet prior to 2015. Despite the rather mundane nature of the shift, the change in authority has brought predictions of doom from many sides.

Some of them are inscrutable; Cher, for example, recently penned what appears to be an unintelligible haiku on the matter.

But more coherent myths abound, which may mislead consumers and stoke unwarranted fears. Here are some of the most deceptive myths, and the facts about what’s actually going on.

Myth #1: It’s the end of the Internet as we know it

Title II rules only went into effect in 2015. If those rules were essential to the functioning of an open Internet, then it is hard to see how the online services we all use every day grew up and flourished without them.

The Internet became great without Title II rules, and we do not need 1934 telephone regulations to keep it that way. With the order that took effect today, you will still be able to use all your favorite web services. Meanwhile, the light-touch approach will foster new improvements to things like live-video streaming and online gaming, which could have been stifled by heavy-handed restrictions.

Myth #2: Internet Service Providers (ISPs) will now carve up the Internet

Title II advocates have claimed that repealing the 2015 rules will allow cable companies to “split the net into packages.” These claims imply that internet access will go the way of cable television, leaving consumers with no option but to pay more to gain access to particular websites and apps.

The irony of this myth is that the Title II rules seek to protect such curation. In litigation over the order, the DC Circuit stated that an ISP could pick “a limited set of websites to carry and [offer] that service as a curated internet experience . . . . the Order itself excludes such providers from the rules.”

And the popular example of Portugal neglects the fact that the country is subject to net neutrality regulation. Even if you want to prevent such arrangements, “net neutrality” rules do not accomplish that goal.

Myth #3: ISPs will now block or slow down content

Again, the Internet did not suffer from these problems prior to 2015, so it is silly to say they will suddenly arise when we remove the Title II rules. That’s why The Washington Post gave the Senate Democrats’ tweet “3 Pinocchios.”

Moreover, not having net neutrality rules administered by the FCC under Title II of the 1934 Communications Act does not mean that anything goes and all harmful or anticompetitive practices are permitted. On the contrary, Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act empowers the FTC to halt such practices and punish any actors that engage in them. That means your ISP will not be able to unfairly disadvantage services that compete with them or block your favorite websites.

Myth #4: Most people support Title II for the Internet

Many people are actually not aware of what the 2017 FCC order does. A Morning Consult poll from last November found that 55 percent of respondents had heard “not much” or “nothing at all” about the pending vote.

Other polls purport to show that majorities from across the political spectrum support “net neutrality,” but they do not account for the “compared to what” question: Which of the available options is the best way to ensure that net neutrality is enforced? A better poll would ask respondents about the relative merits of Title II vs. Section 5.

If activists’ doomsday predictions would come true under FTC enforcement of net neutrality we should all be concerned; no one wants ISPs to restrict their access to content or engage in deceptive, harmful or anticompetitive practices. However, the answer to whether that will happen, or even be legal, when the 2015 order is undone is a clear and resounding, “No.”

Image credit: Steve Heap

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