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Just a handful of weeks after the scrapping of net neutrality regulations that prevented ISPs from creating internet fast lanes and throttling traffic, the FCC is now claiming that its changes are leading to a resurgence in the broadband internet market. The report states that “the marketplace is already responding to the more deployment-friendly regulatory environment now in place,” and yet despite offering no evidence to support this claim, goes on to say it has “restored progress by removing barriers to infrastructure investment, promoting competition.”
This is plainly inaccurate.
For starters, the same data the FCC is using to paint this rosy picture notes that two-thirds of U.S. homes lack access to 25 Mbps broadband from more than one ISP. As we’re all painfully aware of, this broadband monopoly across the country means we’ve been forced to pay more for service, seen slower speeds, and have had to deal with increasingly lousy customer service. Our choices are getting worse, not better. And there are no tangible signs that removing net neutrality will do anything to help.
The facts illustrating quite how dire this situation remains were, of course, conveniently left out. That’s perhaps not surprising. After all, the FCC isn’t paying people to write an unbiased report, it’s paying people to massage and twist the data in a way that best represents its mission. You can’t blame it for that, but you can take everything written with a boatload of salt.
What you can’t sugarcoat, however, is the claim that several companies like AT&T, Verizon, Frontier, and Alaska Communications either “commenced or announced new deployments in 2017,” and that “these new deployments are initial indicators that deployment is likely to accelerate again in part due to our recent efforts.”
This is the key area of the data the FCC is using to back up its claim that a world without net neutrality is already paying huge dividends.
The trouble is that these “deployments” began under the previous FCC run by Tom Wheeler, and that much of the other data it used to “prove” its claim is actually based on information that was only accurate up until December 2016. As a reminder, Ajit Pai didn’t take over from Wheeler until 2017, and net neutrality wasn’t repealed until last December.
This, then, screams as a desperate attempt to quell the massive bipartisan uproar the FCC has faced since eliminating net neutrality. Statements are already pouring in from experts denouncing the claims in the most categorical of ways. As FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel puts it:
“Today, there are 24 million Americans without access to broadband. There are 19 million Americans in rural areas who lack the ability to access high-speed services at home. There are 12 million school-aged children who are falling into the Homework Gap because they do not have the broadband at home they need for nightly schoolwork. Ask any one of them if they think the deployment of the most essential digital age infrastructure is reasonable and timely and you will get a resounding ‘No’. To call these numbers a testament to our national success is insulting and not credible.”
Then there’s FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn’s statement:
“Critical progress reports should not rely on the ‘hypothetical’ when it comes to reaching a conclusion. Indeed, the deployments the majority loudly touts pale greatly in comparison to the deployments that occurred in the year after the adoption of the 2015 Open Internet Order. But if you are desperate to justify flawed policy, I think the straw-grasping conclusions contained in this report is for you.”
What’s clear is that you can’t bluff your way through unpopular policy, nor massage old data to paint a prettier picture, and not expect to be called out. In a year where the United States has never been more divided, net neutrality regulations were one of the few areas where public and policymakers alike were mostly united. 83% of voters polled before the FCC voted to repeal the law stated that they were in favor of keeping it. And many senators from both parties strongly oppose—and are continuing to fight—what the FCC has done.
For the people who must live with the repercussions of flawed policy driven by corporate greed, it remains imperative to keep the FCC honest and for our voices to be heard. The internet should remain without walls or borders. Regardless of where you live, you should have access to high-speed internet and a right to see the same content as someone living 6,000 miles away.
After all, our ‘digital rights’ are ‘human rights’. And while we may not be able to trust the government to put our needs before their desire to feed wealthy donors, if we continue this fight and work on technological solutions to a political problem, it’s a fight we can still win.