A Federal Communications Commission (FCC) under the Biden administration may revisit the failed idea of heavy-handed regulations of the internet known as Title II net neutrality.
Gigi Sohn, a former FCC counsel and self-described “net neutrality pioneer,” recently received the nomination for the open fifth seat on the commission in the same week that FCC commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel was named permanent chair. Both women are big proponents of reimplementing the Title II regulations that the FCC imposed under former chairman Tom Wheeler that were reversed under former chair Ajit Pai.
President Joe Biden previously released an executive order targeting competition policy that was heavily panned by critics like the Taxpayers Protection Alliance (TPA). The order includes language that encourages the FCC to reinstate net neutrality.
Rosenworcel is in lockstep with Biden on the issue, having voted for Title II regulations initially and calling the decision to end the rules “corrupt.”
Sohn said in a 2019 interview with Vox that the FCC under Pai “abdicated its responsibility to protect consumers and competition in the broadband market.”
As an example to push for net neutrality, Sohn cited the incident when Verizon controversially throttled the data of the Santa Clara County Fire Department during an emergency situation in 2018. TPA pointed out how the situation actually showed how varying data plans benefit consumers in the long term.
As TPA has reported, there is little to show that the regulations are necessary. The Title II rules, as previously implemented, prevented internet service providers from blocking, throttling or prioritizing data, but there was scant evidence that providers commonly engaged in such behavior before net neutrality was implemented. TPA, in a 2019 investigation, found few complaints of bad actions by providers after the rules were reversed.
Still, a net neutrality showdown at the FCC is expected. Sohn, a co-founder of left-leaning advocacy organization Public Knowledge and a Georgetown law fellow, served as a top aide for Wheeler during the Obama administration.
Protocol noted that after Sohn’s criticism of the FCC’s prior leadership for failing to institute net neutrality, she became the architect for the 2015 order that implemented the Title II regulations. This followed her work at Public Knowledge, a group that was among the earliest supporters of net neutrality. Protocol reported that Public Knowledge spent about $40 million in the decade before Title II’s implementation supporting the issue.
TechCrunch said that a second net neutrality plan is likely to be leaner and better able to withstand legal challenges.
“Sohn, already a legal expert in these matters, has been making a study of the challenges faced during net neutrality’s extended court battle – so the new one, if and when it exists, will likely be very shrewdly and comprehensively justified legally,” TechCrunch wrote.
Democrats’ efforts to take control of the internet comes as networks have proven more robust than ever, freed from the shackles of Title II.
A Vienna University of Economics and Business study showed that net neutrality rules harmed the growth of fiber infrastructure and high-speed internet adoption across the world. In an examination of net neutrality policies in 32 of the 37 countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OCED), researchers found that the introduction of net neutrality led to an overall decrease in new fiber investment by about 45%.
Domestically, providers have invested nearly $2 trillion in broadband infrastructure in the past 25 years. That investment flattened after net neutrality was implemented. And, not surprisingly, private sector investments rose again after the rules were repealed. The result of the repeal of Title II net neutrality rules has been a sturdy American network that required no slowdown of data during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic as more heavily regulated European networks suffered.
The internet isn’t broken so there’s no need to fix it. The Democrat-led FCC should take a more hands-off approach to internet policy. American consumers would benefit from fewer regulations on providers so they can focus on continuing to expand infrastructure and closing the digital divide.