Congress’ Alternate Reality on Net Neutrality

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Congress’ Alternate Reality on Net Neutrality

Congress is at it — again. The House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology plans to attack Net Neutrality in a Tuesday hearing that will be riddled with industry misinformation.

Rep. Greg Walden (R-Oregon) is leading the latest GOP assault on net neutrality by making unsubstantiated claims about the supposed economic harms of the FCC’s open Internet protections. (Photo: House GOP/flickr/cc)

The hearing, deceptively titled “Common Carrier Regulation of the Internet: Investment Impacts,” is another misguided opportunity for members of the House, including Subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden (R-Oregon), to repeat unsubstantiated claims about the supposed economic harms of the FCC’s open Internet protections.

What Walden (pictured) and his pals won’t admit is that protecting the Internet isn’t the same thing as regulating content. The FCC’s rules are the same safeguards we’ve always had in place to ensure that owners of broadband networks don’t interfere with users’ online speech. The only difference is that the FCC has put these rules back on solid legal footing.

And the rules have done nothing to harm broadband-provider investment — but you can expect to hear empty claims to the contrary today from Walden and his colleagues.

These members just can’t get over the fact that millions of Internet users demanded these rules, and that a majority of people polled — including voters on the right — say that Net Neutrality protections are warranted.

Instead this congressional crew is listening only to the phone and cable lobby, which continues to make widely discredited allegations that the FCC’s rules have led to a “meltdown” in investment in digital networks.

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Never mind that none of this is true. Free Press has analyzed these claims and shown that they’re filled with sloppy analysis that ignores the industry’s own reporting on network investment.

Our fact sheets on investment dispel the doomsday scenario painted by industry favorite Hal Singer — an economist who fronts for the Progressive Policy Institute while getting paid on the side by phone and cable companies via financial ties to the Washington consultancy Economists Incorporated.

This double dealing hasn’t stopped some members of Congress and certain FCC officials from citing Singer’s analysis as fact. But he either undercounted, mischaracterized or just plain ignored massive tracts of investment data that didn’t serve his argument against the Net Neutrality rules.

Singer often partners with economist Robert Litan to attack open Internet protections. Litan, who also has financial ties to phone and cable companies, was forced to resign from his position at the Brookings Institution after he misrepresented his affiliation with the think tank in congressional testimony earlier this year.

Today’s hearing features another industry favorite, Robert Shapiro, who co-founded the same Progressive Policy Institute that lists Singer as a senior fellow. Shapiro does double duty as the founder of the economic advisory firm Sonecon, which counts AT&T as a client. He also publishes analysis via a fellowship at the Georgetown Center for Business and Public Policy, which lists AT&T, Comcast, the U.S. Telecom Association and Verizon among its supporters.

These industry “analysts” will continue their lucrative bid to dislodge the FCC’s Net Neutrality protections. But no amount of spin can overcome the mountain of evidence demonstrating that the rules are working. They haven’t hurt investment in the slightest, and there’s no plausible reason to suspect they will.

In the first full quarter since the FCC restored these protections for Internet users, more than half of 18 publicly traded ISPs have boosted capital spending. We’ve seen Comcast begin to roll out new gigabit-fiber services to 18 million locations. Time Warner Cable has accelerated its network upgrades. AT&T has announced plans to double its deployment of next-generation broadband services. And Verizon has accelerated its plans to roll out 5G technology, the next generation of mobile broadband over mobile wireless networks.

Meanwhile consumers can rest easy knowing that their rights to connect and communicate will be upheld.

Members of the subcommittee would do well to listen to Internet users. Instead they continue to rely on a tired roster of industry-funded analysts well practiced in the art of deception.

Timothy Karr

Timothy Karr serves as the Campaign Director for Free Press, the Free Press Action Fund and Karr also critiques, analyzes and reports on media and media policy in his popular blog, MediaCitizen.

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