Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

The Effects of Four Years Without Net Neutrality Rules in the U.S.

One of the bizarre by-products of the Trump administration is the rehashing of hysterical media coverage while ignoring real, proven consequences. CNN is notoriously terrible — remember their 2014 coverage of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370? — but apparently the headline of the repeal of net neutrality rules four years ago is ripe for mockery on every anniversary. Nathan Leamer, a former advisor to then-FCC chair Ajit Pai:

CNN called this the End of the Internet as We Know It.

This headline should be in the hall of fame for misinformation. Complete fake news, But of course there has been no accountability from other blue checks and media institutions for the lack of truthiness.

Setting aside Leamer’s complete misunderstanding of truthiness, this headline is awful, even on a purely journalistic level. It tells readers nothing about the contents or context of the story. The story itself is, thankfully, more substantive and presented under a sober banner.

In that thread, Leamer presents a few other examples of bad guesses of what the end of net neutrality in the U.S. could look like. An unfortunate number of people believed that the internet would get slower as a direct result, loading “one word at a time” according to Senate Democrats. That take was so divorced from reality that I felt embarrassed for them in the snow-covered refrigerator I call home. And Leamer was not the only one: Fox News and the libertarian publication Reason dutifully covered the missing annihilation of the internet without acknowledging any effects of the end of net neutrality. That is not because there were none.

Karl Bode, writing in Techdirt in 2019:

One common refrain by Pai and and the industry (and many folks who don’t understand how the broken telecom market works) is that because the internet didn’t immediately collapse upon itself post-repeal in a rainbow-colored explosion, that the repeal itself must not be that big of a deal. That ignores the fact that ISPs are only largely behaving because they’re worried about the numerous new state level net neutrality laws passed in the wake of the federal repeal. Not to mention the 23 state AG lawsuit against the FCC (which, if victorious, would restore some or all of the rules).

[…]

Meanwhile, claims that nothing happened in the wake of the repeal aren’t even true. Giants like AT&T have quietly started using broadband usage caps to disadvantage competitors like Netflix. ISPs like CenturyLink have blocked internet access to sling ads. Mobile carriers now charge you more just to stream in HD as intended. And the repeal of net neutrality didn’t just kill net neutrality, it eroded the FCC’s ability to police the sector, leaving us with revolving door regulators totally unwilling to do anything about numerous sector scandals including the collection and sale of user location data or hurricane recovery failures.

Last June, AT&T excused its recently-acquired HBO products from data caps. Then, during an earnings call last November, Comcast’s CEO was effusive about how the company privileged Peacock subscribers. 2020 capital expenditures among U.S. ISPs dropped during a time when Americans relied on high-speed internet more than ever, even while consumer spending increased.

Many tweets about 2017’s coverage of the end of net neutrality rules were clearly inaccurate and hysterical — that is for certain. But the loss of those rules has not magically solved U.S. broadband problems, either; on the contrary, it has exacerbated the worst tendencies of telecommunications conglomerates as many people — including yours truly — predicted. U.S. ISPs, which should be mere utility providers, are abusing their positions to advantage their own products and services. Net neutrality rules should be restored and, just as importantly, ISPs should not be excluded from antitrust discussions.