The Federal Communications Commission put out a final proposal last week to end net neutrality. The proposal opens the door for internet service providers to create fast and slow lanes, to block websites, and to prioritize their own content. This isn’t speculation. It’s all there in the text.
But a new “fact sheet” sent out by the FCC today asks: what if facts are flexible things that we can bend to our preferred reality? It lists a series of “myths” about the commission’s proposal, followed by “facts” that supposedly debunk them — except the facts are often wrong, or directly confirm the myth that they’re trying to debunk.
Here are some of the most flagrant examples.
The FCC admits it wants to create fast and slow lanes
Let’s start with this one:
MYTH: This will result in “fast lanes” and “slow lanes” on the internet that will worsen consumers’ online experience.
FACT: Restoring internet freedom will lead to better, faster, and cheaper broadband for consumers and give startups that need priority access (such as telehealth applications) the chance to offer new services to consumers.
Note that the “fact” never states that fast and slow lanes won’t be created. And the new services it mentions are just fast and slow lanes for specific applications.
If you read carefully, you’ll notice the FCC isn’t even trying to debunk the creation of fast and slow lanes. It’s just trying to debunk that they “will worsen consumers’ online experience.” That’s a matter of opinion, and clearly, we all know which side the FCC lands on.
The FCC admits ISPs will be able to block websites
The commission makes several similar admissions elsewhere in the “fact sheet,” where it ends up proving what it set out to debunk. This one’s a bit longer, but it’s among the more absurd parts of the list:
MYTH: Internet service providers will block you from visiting the websites you want to visit.
FACT: Internet service providers didn’t block websites before the Obama Administration’s heavy-handed 2015 internet regulations and won’t after they are repealed. Any internet service provider would be required to publicly disclose this practice and would face fierce consumer backlash as well as scrutiny from the Federal Trade Commission, which will have renewed authority to police unfair, deceptive, and anticompetitive practices.
The FCC is trying to repeal a rule that stops ISPs from blocking websites, so the commission absolutely can’t guarantee internet providers won’t do that when the rules are gone. But despite saying this “won’t” happen, the answer goes on to say, okay, maybe ISPs will block sites. But hey, people will get mad about it!
The FCC even acknowledges here that consumers have a strong preference for an open internet. Which, again, is the thing the FCC’s new proposal would stop protecting.
The FCC says removing privacy rules will improve privacy
The “fact sheet” also says repealing net neutrality will “promote consumers’ online privacy,” when the reality is that the FCC passed stricter privacy rules than what consumers will receive without net neutrality.
On a really technical level, the FCC is correct here. The commission’s privacy rules were struck down by Congress earlier this year, so there aren’t any privacy rules in place at the moment. But that happened, in part at least, thanks to the current FCC chairman’s campaign against them.
Had those rules been kept in place, consumers would have been covered by much stricter privacy protections than what the Federal Trade Commission will guarantee. That’s because the FTC mostly has privacy guidelines — not strict rules — whereas the FCC was able to define specific behaviors that are unacceptable.
Without net neutrality, privacy enforcement will go back to the FTC’s broader approach.
The FCC believes cable companies’ skewed investment numbers
The FCC’s big argument against net neutrality is that the policy is hurting investment in broadband networks, thus slowing the expansion of nationwide internet access. And if you only look at the numbers cable companies give you, that would appear to be true. The commission says “broadband investment has fallen for two years in a row — the first time that’s happened outside of a recession in the Internet era.”
But it’s looking at numbers provided by USTelecom, a telecom lobbying group. And it’s looking at them quite narrowly, too, only between 2009 and 2014 for comparison.
If you take a broader view, it’s clear that broadband investment had already been declining before net neutrality was put in place. Business Insider’s Steve Kovach asked the commission about this last week, and a senior FCC official declined to elaborate. The FCC doesn’t provide any further detail here either.
The stories that ISPs tell their investors is also very different from the stories they tell the FCC. And while there have been measurable dips in investment, it’s partly due to things like acquisitions and oil prices (something even the telecom industry admits).
The FCC doesn't understand logic
But the true absurdity of this list goes back to the questions like this:
MYTH: Broadband providers will charge you a premium if you want to reach certain online content.
FACT: This didn’t happen before the Obama Administration’s 2015 heavy-handed Internet regulations, and it won’t happen after they are repealed.
The simple fact is, internet providers will be able to do this once the net neutrality rules are repealed, and the FCC is well aware of that. The commission simply can’t make this statement while simultaneously removing the rule that prevents this type of behavior.
What the commission is arguing here is that, because something didn’t happen in the past, it therefore won’t happen in the future. But that’s not how anything works. And there’s a good argument to make that, because the FCC is explicitly giving ISPs the thumbs-up on this stuff, it’s more likely to happen than ever.
In fact, we’re already starting to see this happen. AT&T and Verizon, among others, are running zero-rating schemes that advantage their own content. As more and more consolidation happens, ISPs will be incentivized to go further, bundling content and providing free or faster data to make sure their own programs are the most watched. That means consumers could end up paying a premium to escape from their walled gardens.
If the FCC really wanted to guarantee that ISPs can’t charge tolls to access content, prioritize certain sites and services, and create fast and slow lanes, then it wouldn’t repeal net neutrality. Instead, it’s created a wildly misleading “fact sheet” to tell Americans it’s all going to be okay.