FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said a new report from an industry trade group shows his policy to repeal Obama-era net neutrality regulations is working to spur investment in broadband.
Net neutrality activists beg to differ.
Pai said the findings, published Thursday by USTelecom, show broadband spending increased by $1.5 billion from 2016 to 2017, validating his policies, which focus on cutting regulatory red tape.
“Today’s report confirms that the FCC’s policies to promote broadband deployment are working,” Pai said in a statement.
Under President Barack Obama, the FCC prohibited broadband companies, such as AT&T and Comcast, from slowing down or blocking access to websites. It also prevented these companies from charging internet services, such as Netflix, a fee to access their customers faster. The Democrat-led FCC also reclassified broadband as a Title II service, a move defenders of the 2015 rules say was necessary to ensure the regulation could withstand legal challenges. Title II regulated broadband in a manner similar to the way phone service is regulated.
But the Trump-era FCC has agreed with ISPs, who say the stricter regulations have hurt investment in broadband networks. The FCC, led by Pai, a Republican appointed by President Donald Trump,.
USTelecom’s report comes as the FCC prepares to defend itself in court against claims from 22 states and big tech companies, like Mozilla, that support net neutrality, that the agency’s repeal of the popular 2015 rules was “arbitrary” and “capricious.” Pai has often pointed to a previous USTelecom study that showed a $1 billion decline in total spending in 2015 compared to 2014.
The FCC used this same argument of a decline in broadband in its
USTelecom is a trade association representing the US broadband industry. Its members include large publicly traded companies, like AT&T and Verizon, as well as smaller rural regional players, such as Blackfoot, a Montana-based broadband provider. USTelecom was one of the groups that unsuccessfully sued the FCC in federal court over its original 2015 net neutrality rules. It has also joined the Department of Justice in suing the state of California over its net neutrality law, which was signed in September by Gov. Jerry Brown.
Net neutrality supporters have long argued that the. Former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, who led the agency when it adopted the net neutrality regulation in 2015, has claimed that broadband spending had actually increased by $1 billion between 2013, when he took office, and 2015, when the rules went into effect.
As for the latest report, Gigi Sohn, who worked for Wheeler at the FCC, said it’s no surprise that the broadband industry is now offering up a report that “fits the exact narrative they want to tell.”
She also notes that USTelecom’s conclusion actually undercuts its argument, since the net neutrality rules Pai and the industry claim hurt investment, were still in place until December of 2017, when the FCC voted to repeal them. What’s more, the regulation didn’t.
“If anything, this proves that investment went up under Title II,” she said.
Sohn adds that an aggregate increase or decrease in investment is not dependent on the existence of or lack of regulation. Tim Karr, a spokesman for Free Press, a pro net neutrality activist group, agrees.
“I would hope people see through this nonsense, and realize what financial analysts that cover this industry know: light-touch regulation is simply not a factor in ISP’s investment decisions,” he said. “Other factors like technology cycles, changes in exceptions about consumer demand, tax policy, and a host of other factors are far more important than the mere presence of one type of regulation and regulatory authority.”
USTelecom didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
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