FCC Chairman Co-Opts Term Open Internet to Advocate for Flawed System. Here’s What He Got Wrong

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FCC Chairman Co-Opts Term Open Internet to Advocate for Flawed System. Here’s What He Got Wrong

May 15, 2017

You can’t have a discussion about the Internet in the United States these days without encountering the term “open Internet” or “net neutrality.” In the weeks since his appointment as Chairman of the FCC, Ajit Pai has been working to rewrite Internet regulations – first by blocking a rule to protect consumer privacy from ISP snooping – and now by going after net neutrality. Pai’s latest focus is on rolling back existing net neutrality regulations – implemented by the FCC in 2015 under the Open Internet Order – and calling for “free and open Internet” principles in their place.

While the effort sounds good on its face – in fact, a “free and open Internet” is what many privacy advocates and companies (including us here at Golden Frog) have been advocating for for years – something is wrong. The “free and open Internet” Pai is describing is being grossly misrepresented. Pai has co-opted the term and twisted its meaning for his own purposes, all but rewriting the fundamental principles of the open internet in the process. His latest comments are most likely an attempt to trick the public into thinking he’s on their side – that he also wants the same Internet experience everyone has been asking for – when in reality the solution he’s presenting is far more restrictive and less open than the Internet marketplace we have today. What Pai really wants is to further decrease regulation, which will only strengthen the existing broadband duopoly and allow providers to manipulate and restrict Internet access. This would be a disaster for consumers and any providers outside the big two, moving us even further away from the open Internet we’ve been fighting for.

Below we examine the arguments being made by Pai and the dangerous way he is twisting the concept of the open Internet. We counter each point to offer insight into what’s really happening and what we need to do to move towards a real solution.

Everyone Agrees on the Principles of a Free and Open Internet

Pai Says: “The bottom line is, everyone agrees on the principles of a free and open Internet. What we disagree with is how many regulations are needed to preserve the Internet.”

Counter Argument: This statement is entirely dependant on the definition of the open Internet. The way it’s currently being used by Pai, the open Internet is not representative of principles we all agree on. What Pai is advocating for is more flawed than the existing net neutrality regulations we have in place. While deregulation in a competitive marketplace is in and of itself favorable, in a marketplace that lacks such competition light regulation is absolutely necessary. In the case of the broadband marketplace as it currently exists in the United States, there is a severe lack of competition and most providers outside the big few do not support reducing this.

Additionally, Pai is making a sweeping generalization here by encompassing “everyone.” Not “everyone” agrees with most things, and in the case of the open Internet, history has proven many are not in alignment on the issue.

The Internet Was Not Broken in 2015

Pai Says: “Number one there was no problem to solve, the Internet wasn’t broken in 2015.”

Counterargument: There are two inaccuracies here. First, if the Internet was ever “broken,” it was done long before 2015. The Internet started breaking so to speak way back in the early 2000s, when large monopolistic cable companies began lobbying the FCC to reduce regulation so they could push out small ISPs and dominate the marketplace. Secondly, the reference to 2015 and its associated Internet regulations (the Open Internet Order) is misleading. While we agree the 2015 regulations are far from ideal, they were in fact an attempt to improve the Internet marketplace and keep access open for consumers.

Title II Was Not The Right Solution to Adopt

Pai Says: “Number two, even if there was a problem, this wasn’t the right solution to adopt. […] the broadband market we have is very different from the telephone market of 1934.”

Counterargument: Ok, so we also agree that net neutrality under Title II was not an ideal solution to adopt. We’ve been saying this for years – it attempted to address a problem but did so inadequately. However, Pai’s new “open Internet” solution is not the right approach either. The only real solution here is a return to Open Access – wherein the physical infrastructure is separated from the service provider, allowing for a fully competitive marketplace with many providers and in which consumers have choice. This model is effectively used – not to mention hailed as an example – in other sectors such as public utility.

A Few of them [ISPs] are Behaving in a Way that is Anticompetitive

Pai Says: “So, it seems to me that if you have 4,462 internet service providers and if a few of them are behaving in a way that is anticompetitive or otherwise bad for consumer welfare then you take targeted action to deal with that. You don’t declare the entire market anticompetitive and treat everyone as if they are a monopolist.”

Counterargument: Although there may technically be a lot of providers in the marketplace, the reality is only a tiny fraction are able to compete (IE – Verizon, Time Warner, Comcast). The monopolistic behavior we see is perpetuated by these few huge providers whom not only dominate but also lobby to maintain and expand their control – as they’re doing now by encouraging the FCC to roll back net neutrality protections. The market is anticompetitive because of these providers – the very ones that are applying pressure to remove the regulations. When we look at the numbers, there were far more competitive ISPs prior to FCC involvement back in the 2000s than there are today.

The Real Issue (And Real Solution)

So where can we go from here? Below we outline key takeaways, and what we see as the solution.

The Meaning of Open Internet Is Changing

The term “open Internet” has been co-opted by Pai (and many others) and is being used to represent a  concept that is highly divergent from its original meaning. People HAVE NOT been advocating for the “open Internet” as Pai describes it, and changing the definition will have very dangerous consequences.

If We’re Undoing Net Neutrality, We Should Revisit the Entire Conversation

The net neutrality rules put into place under the Open Internet Order in 2015 were flawed, and now that we’re changing these regulations we should push for the ideal solution instead of arguing over a flawed one. This is an opportunity for all proponents of a truly free and open Internet to speak up.

Open Access is the Solution

Open Access is the only answer – and here’s why.

Get Involved

You can make a difference here. The FCC will start collecting public comments on net neutrality on May 17, meaning you can share your voice and contribute to the conversation. We encourage you to submit comments and also contact your representative and demand a truly open Internet via Open Access. Here’s How:

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