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How We Used Internet During Lockdowns Proves Ending Net Neutrality Was The Right Call


June 11 marked the second anniversary of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) eliminating Title II regulations on internet providers, including the rules that many dubbed “net neutrality.” You probably didn’t even realize it, did you?

There’s a good reason for that, because all the doomsday predictions for how the FCC’s move under Chairman Ajit Pai would destroy the internet did not come to pass.

If anything, how well American internet service has performed during the pandemic and stay-at-home orders proves criticism of repeal was way overblown. FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr wrote of the economic lockdown period that “America’s Internet infrastructure is showing strength, speed, and resilience,” outpacing other countries.

In Europe, for example, Netflix and YouTube were asked to slow their content to lower resolutions so the data would not interfere with more important communications in countries with sluggish internet. Bret Swanson, a visiting fellow at American Enterprise Institute, pointed out that Netflix came up with an alternative solution of prioritizing slower speeds for areas with bigger health crises or less robust broadband. Swanson notes this smart solution “is the type of traffic management Netflix and other advocates of strong net neutrality spent the last 15 years telling us was evil.”

Former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, the head of the commission under President Obama that imposed net neutrality regulations, raved in April about how well the internet was holding up, writing for Brookings that “credit is due to the nation’s broadband providers.”

Broadband Now found that some cities, particularly larger U.S. cities, experienced slowdowns in speeds due to the massive traffic increase. But the vast majority of networks still hummed along at speeds that “can support critical remote work and learning tasks.”

It’s instructive to look back at a story in The New York Times about the repeal of the Title II rules on June 11, 2018, to see how the doom-and-gloom prophecies did not occur. That article hypothesized that providers might begin selling the internet in bundles, similar to cable packages.

“Want access to Facebook and Twitter? Under a bundling system, getting on those sites could require paying for a premium social media package,” read one hyperbolic suggestion. That, obviously, did not happen.

The biggest arguments by Title II proponents were that providers could implement blocking, throttling, or paid prioritization, although those activities did not occur before Wheeler ushered in the new rules in 2015. An investigation by the Taxpayers Protection Alliance (TPA) found that throttling and blocking internet access did not occur in the year after the FCC ended the Title II regulations.

Among the hundreds of millions of U.S. internet sessions, only a few hundred complaints about throttling or blocking were made to the FCC. Analysis of the complaints showed that practically all could be explained as standard network issues rather than malicious intent from providers. That list can be viewed here on the TPA website.

In addition to multiple complaints from many of the same users, many of the issues in that study dealt with providers slowing speeds after data caps were reached, a practice that was never banned even when net neutrality rules were in effect.

Two years later, the left-leaning media has been mostly mum on how well the internet is running now after their hysterics claiming the repeal of net neutrality in 2018 would doom the World Wide Web. After the breathless takes of two years ago, no one is willing to admit he was wrong.

Google Trends paints an interesting picture of how the hype affected searches, and how the lack of searches now proves the uproar over net neutrality was, in fact, just hype. Searches for “net neutrality” peaked the week of Dec. 10-16, 2017, when the FCC voted to begin the process of removing the Title II rules. Since then searches for “net neutrality” have averaged less than 1 percent of their total during this peak period.

Searches for “isp blocking” peaked at around the same time. This past week, searches were about a third of the tally at the peak. The story is similar for “isp throttling.” That term saw peak searches during the net neutrality hoopla, but is at just 16 percent of the peak level now.

Lastly, “paid prioritization,” the concept that providers could charge more to certain websites for access, saw its peak in 2015 around the time the new rules were put into place. Searches for that term are so low now that Google Trends shows a zero metric for its score in recent months.

What does all of the Google Trends data mean? If these aforementioned areas were truly issues now, internet users likely would be searching for these terms in as much regularity, or more, as they did during the net neutrality hysteria. But they are not, because things like blocking, throttling, and paid prioritization are not occurring.

Pai proved correct when he said the innovation-impending regulations were based on “hypothetical harms and hysterical prophecies of doom.” The rumors of the internet’s death were greatly exaggerated as internet connectivity grows and fears of a world without “net neutrality” dissipates.