How to talk to your family about net neutrality
This year is likely to prominently feature wonky topics such as tax reform and – oddly enough – net neutrality. While telecom regulation isn’t normally a salient subject in family settings, that may change tomorrow; the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) just released its proposal to rollback Title II regulation of the Internet, aka “Net Neutrality” (our substantive thoughts on the issue can be found here).
Activists didn’t waste any time in attacking the plan and taking to various social media platforms to shout their objections. But not all of us agree with left-wing activists (and we suspect most of them don’t know much about telecom policy).
With all the confusion and misinformation pervading this discussion, here are some points to share with your family should the subject come up around the table this Thanksgiving.
1) It’s not the end of the Internet. The Internet as we know it was built without Title II regulation. In fact, the current regulations only took effect in mid-2015. Cases of net neutrality “violations” were few and far between in the decades before Title II regulation, and they were resolved without prescriptive regulation. Going back to the pre-2015 light-touch framework would hardly pose an existential threat to your favorite websites.
2) There will still be “cops on the beat.” Scary scenarios in which an ISP blocks content from its competitors will still be illegal. And even as the FCC steps aside from regulating the Internet, the Federal Trade Commission still has ample authority and expertise to hold ISPs to their promises and punish them if they engage in unfair competition methods. State attorneys general also have the power to bring enforcement actions using state-level consumer protection laws.
3) The Internet has never “treated all traffic the same,” nor should it. Different kinds of data are sent over the Internet, and they don’t all need the same treatment. A half-second delay in delivering an email or part of a software update isn’t a big deal. The same delay for applications like real-time multiplayer games or video chats could render them unusable.
Additionally, some Internet applications are non-neutral. If you use T-Mobile’s Binge On, you get slightly lower-quality video in exchange for free streaming. That such a service hurts consumers would be news to those who have signed up for it in droves.
4) The issues you’re worried about might not be net neutrality concerns. We’ve all had bad experiences with our ISPs’ customer service departments, but those are separate issues. More regulation, especially the kind designed for a 1934 telephone monopoly, is not going to improve the situation.
5) More broadband deployment is the long term solution. What will make things better is more competition in the marketplace, which means more broadband deployment from all sources, including wireline and wireless. Thus, instead of fixating on net neutrality, we should focus on removing barriers to deployment. The Title II regulations are one such barrier that has depressed investment. Repealing them will get us back on the road to faster Internet for all.