Net Neutrality Realities and Second Thoughts

The need for a permanent legislative solution to guarantee an open Internet against all risks, present and hypothetical, has been greatly enhanced by the confusion and lack of clarity that Title II proponents have created, perhaps unavoidably, as we break with 20+ years of bipartisan support for light-touch regulation of the Internet and charge forward on treating the most innovative sector of our economy as if it’s among the least. Even net neutrality champions have seemed flummoxed.

For example, one of the loudest champions supporting public utility style regulation for the nation’s broadband ecosystem was Netflix. Netflix publicly pushed the White House and the FCC to embrace Title II as a means to achieve marketplace concessions and prevent assignment of higher costs for consumption of greatest bandwidth. Yet, when Netflix’s Chief Financial Officer was asked at an investment conference this week, “Were we pleased it pushed to Title II,” he replied: “Probably not. We were hoping there would be a non-regulated solution.”

Netflix’s CFO was hardly alone in expressing concern for the potential harms that could cascade from treating the most dynamic and innovative sector of our economy as the most in need of Washington’s control. CloudFlare CEO Matthew Prince eloquently shared his “deep concerns” that the use of Title II to achieve net neutrality protections could well snatch defeat from the jaws of victory – “proponents of a free and open Internet may look back on today not as a great victory, but as the first step in what may turn out to be a devastating loss”. According to reporting by the Wall Street Journal, erstwhile net neutrality champion Eric Schmidt even lobbied the White House against use of the thermonuclear Title II option.

The lack of appreciation for the harms associated with the FCC’s decision to impose public utility style regulation (Title II) on broadband has not been limited to Netflix. During a recent CNBC interview, Title II proponent David Karp, founder and CEO of Tumblr, similarly made statements regarding the proposed Net Neutrality regulations that ironically affirmed why a “light-touch” regulatory approach is superior to Title II to maintain the current open, robust, and investment-friendly Internet. Mr. Karp and others have been led down the proverbial primrose path to believe that Title II is the only solution to keep any potential abuse at bay. However, it is worth reviewing many assertions made by Mr. Karp and other Title II advocates and the realities that contradict them.

The Title II rules will not “slow down innovation.”

Not true. Innovation developed at the Internet’s ‘edge’ by companies like Tumblr depends on robust high-speed broadband wired and wireless networks to reach consumers. Innovative success stories such as Tumblr thrived precisely because Title II was not applied to the Internet ecosystem. Title II regulations that slow broadband investment by Internet service providers will ultimately harm Internet innovation by those hoping for robust and rapidly-improving service.

New rules are needed to achieve “a competitive market for carriers where they’re competing to deliver us the fastest, best Internet.”

That market exists today. It’s the very market in which Tumblr has thrived. The U.S. benefits from robust competition among both wired and wireline Internet providers – competition that exceeds that in Europe, which today maintains Title II-like regulations on Internet providers.

Concerns that Title II will restrict investment “have been disproven.” 

Wrong. To the contrary, light-touch regulation promotes greater investment, as highlighted in a recent Internet Innovation Alliance study that compares broadband and telco investment in the U.S. and Europe.

There is currently “a lot of artificial throttling going on, [even though broadband providers] have the bandwidth to deliver this.”

Not really. Allegations of throttling are hypothetical. In fact, the FCC found only four instances of alleged anticompetitive throttling behavior, and all occurred before 2010. The core challenge remains: Managing the exponential explosion of content and data generated by “killer content”, such as Netflix’s popular “House of Cards.” Carriers desperately search for more spectrum for mobile broadband services, which is why wireless companies just spent $45 billion at the recent FCC spectrum auction gobbling up airwaves to provide mobile Internet services. But broadband providers, and new entrants such as Dish, may not make such desperately-needed investments in the future if they believe that Title II will inhibit their ability to recoup.

Title II will “move further in breaking down the near-monopoly situation we have right now.”

What monopolies? No broadband company has as much market share as the leading search engine or many of the leading tech players. Today’s broadband market is vibrantly competitive as consumers have multiple Internet options in markets across the U.S. Title II does not “break down” monopolies, since it was crafted to manage and regulate the one service provider that existed in the 1930s monopoly telephone market.

Despite Title II, providers will continue to build the broadband Internet at faster speeds and that the carriers are “just lying” when they claim otherwise.

Really? Public Internet service companies are responsible to their shareholders and logically invest only in markets where they have an ability to recoup their capital. Investment suffers in markets—like Europe—where a Title II-like regulatory regime prevails.

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