Tuesday, December 12, 2017
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Ajit Pai: Either an Impossibly Misinformed Idiot, or a Willfully Ignorant Liar


FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has announced his plan to remove ISPs from Title II regulation. The current Title II regulations establish that the internet is a public utility, and therefore service cannot be regulated, in the manner that websites cannot receive preferential loading speed, or service otherwise.

In arguing for the repeal of these Title II regulations, Ajit Pai has put up several arguments which attempt to explain how Title II harms customers and ISP’s. I shall debunk them here.

Argument 1:

“But when I meet with consumers…what they tell me is that the concern is not that their Internet service provider is blocking lawful traffic or doing something like that. It’s that they want more competition. They want better, faster and cheaper Internet.”

Ajit Pai argues that a majority of Americans are unconcerned with the problem that Title II stops. However, this is categorically false, and Ajit Pai has either not researched this at all, or is willfully ignorant, and lying to the American Public. Given that he has worked with Verizon, I’d suspect that it’s the latter. [1]

All polls and data obviously show that the American public is strongly opposed to the repeal of Title II. A recent survey by Mozilla found that 73% of Republicans, 81% of Democrats, and 76% of the US population as a whole, support Net Neutrality. [2]

In fact, even a poll done by the Morning Consult and the NCTA, two groups strongly tied to the cable industry, found that 61% of Americans support Net Neutrality, with only 18% opposed, and 21% not knowing. [3]

Then, on the FCC’s own website for fillings and proceedings, at one point, over 22 million comments had been posted on Docket 17-108. This document is titled, “Restoring Internet Freedom”, and regards Net Neutrality. [4] However, this number seems to have gone down for unknown reasons, but still rests at over 15 million. [5] Currently, Docket 17-108 is the most popular proceeding by far. Within the past 30 days, nearly 900,000 comments and replies have been posted. [6]

In essence, Ajit Pai’s claim is completely false. There is significant public interest from both Republicans and Democrats, and people of both sides of the party line strongly support net neutrality.

In any case, “better, faster and cheaper Internet” is best supported by these Title II regulations. Title II regulations establish that ISP’s cannot charge more for access to specific websites. Without Title II, ISP’s would be free to force customers for access to popular websites, and bias load speeds and other services in favor of what websites they wanted. Simply put, the Title II regulations protect consumers from the very predatory practices Ajit Pai claims to oppose.

Argument 2:

“And the rule of law, which includes antitrust law and consumer protection law, is basically administered by the federal government agencies and state agencies…”

Ajit Pai argues that Anti-Trust regulations mean that there will not be monopolies, but instead, a free market of different providers. However, once again, this is false.

Donald Trump’s nominee, and current head of the antitrust division, Makan Delrahim, is rife with conflicts of interest. He was a lobbyist, and prominently represented Telecom services industry. [7][8]

Antitrust has also started to simply turn a blind eye to such mergers. For instance, they allowed Charter Com. to merge with Time Warner cable, creating one of the nation’s largest broadband and cable providers. [9][10]

In any case, the Antitrust law that this lazy, or impossibly uninformed agency (doesn’t) enforce is a complete failure. Kit Walsh details in a piece on the Electronic Frontier Foundation, that:

1). Antitrust law doesn’t account for censorship we would see without Title II, only economic factors.

2). Many regions have few ISP’s, and those that are there, often push plans that force customers to only use provider-selected content.

3). Antitrust law currently allows ISP’s to bias service in favor of their parent companies [11]

FCC reports find that large numbers of people have little to no ISP choice. [12][13] Specifically, 58% of Census Blocks had either one or no ISP’s providing 25 Mbps+ of speed, and a further 29% had only two providers. And as Jon Brodokin reports for Arstechnica, the survey method utilized by the FCC means that “Any given ISP is a lot more likely to offer service to at least one household within a census tract than within a census block.” In other words, these numbers are likely themselves very optimistic, as census blocks are counted even if there is only partial service. (A Map of the report can be found here [14])

On a tangent, this means that even under the current system, US customers pay far more for far worse service. In cities abroad, service is many times faster, and much cheaper. For instance, the New Yorker reported on a report which found that.

1). In Seoul, triple-play packages start at $15/month, and in Zurich, they are $30/month

2). Unlimited broadband in the UK costs $25/month

3). On televisions built in this last decade, Freeview can be accessed, providing 60 TV channels, 30 radio channels, and roughly 12 internet channels. [15][22][23]

Finally, a strange inconsistency. Ajit Pai argues that making ISP’s follow net neutrality rules decreases profit. If this is correct, and his argument that a free market would create a free and open internet like Title II currently does, wouldn’t a free market then decrease profit as well?

Essentially, if net neutrality is what causes an alleged decrease in broadband investment, then any system providing net neutrality would decrease broadband investment. Following Ajit Pai’s argument, either we can have investment, or a free and open internet.

In conclusion, Antitrust law is unlikely to help stop monopolies. The current head of the antitrust department is highly corrupt, the law they are intended to enforce is full of loopholes, and this means that most Americans have few options regarding internet choice.

Argument 3:

“By imposing those heavy-handed economic regulations on Internet service providers big and small, we could end up disincentivizing companies from wanting to build out Internet access to a lot of parts of the country, in low-income, urban and rural areas, for example.”

Ajit Pai claims that Title II regulations hurt broadband investment. However, this is categorically false. A report by Free Press found that after 2015 regulations, broadband investment actually increased by 5%. [16] While counter-research by Hal Singer and broadband lobbying group USTelecom found a decrease in investment, Free Press pointed out that they both missed Sprint’s multibillion dollar handset investment, and that AT&T predicted their investment before Title II’s announcement [17]

arstechnica.png

Image Source: ArsTechnica, Free Press

Ajit Pai’s counter-claim was dubious at best, claiming that, “22 Internet service providers with 1,000 customers or less told us that these Title II regulations have kept them from getting the financing that they need to build out their networks.”

Strange that Ajit Pai would make a bold claim that is contradicted by the evidence, without backing it up. Pai provided no evidence that any ISP’s actually did claim this, or that their claims were even based on the evidence.

In conclusion, evidence actually shows an increase in broadband investment following Title II regulations. The counter claims by Ajit Pai are dubious and unsupported by evidence. However, it seems he actually knows this, as he resorted instead, to smearing Free Press as, “a spectacularly misnamed Beltway lobbying group”. Ironic, given that USTelecom is a beltway lobbying group, and that Free Press has done no lobbying and is a non-profit. [18]

Conclusion

Ajit Pai wishes to dismantle Title II regulations. This would turn the internet into a cable-TV-industry style market where providers can regulate content through preferential service to certain websites, and force customers to pay more for popular websites. [19] This disastrous plan would destroy the very concept of the internet as a free and open marketplace of ideas, where all are able to access and speak as they wish. Ajit Pai’s plan to destroy net neutrality must be stopped.

Contact your Congressional Representatives:

House contact: https://www.house.gov/representatives

Senate contact:

https://www.senate.gov/general/contact_information/senators_cfm.cfm

Participate in protests:

https://www.battleforthenet.com/

 

Sources:

[1] https://www.opensecrets.org/revolving/rev_summary.php?id=78736

[2] https://medium.com/mozilla-internet-citizen/poll-americans-overwhelmingly-support-net-neutrality-98b6b77f6cfe

[3] http://thehill.com/policy/technology/332948-cable-industry-poll-majority-support-net-neutrality-rules

[4] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0jHeK_o0ks4

[5] https://www.fcc.gov/ecfs/search/filings?proceedings_name=17-108&q=Net%20Neutrality&sort=date_disseminated,DESC

This can also be accessed at http://gofccyourself.com/.

[6] https://www.fcc.gov/ecfs/browse-popular-proceedings

[7] https://www.opensecrets.org/revolving/indus.php?id=35409

[8] https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/makan-delrahim-antitrust_us_599f55e1e4b06d67e336a751

[9] http://theweek.com/articles/620765/businesses-are-merging-like-crazy-uncle-sam-responding-all-wrong

[10] https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-switch/wp/2016/04/25/federal-regulators-just-greenlighted-charters-massive-takeover-of-time-warner-cable/

[11] https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2017/06/dont-trust-antitrust-law-protect-net-neutrality

[12] https://arstechnica.com/information-technology/2016/08/us-broadband-still-no-isp-choice-for-many-especially-at-higher-speeds/

[13] https://apps.fcc.gov/edocs_public/attachmatch/DOC-344499A1.pdf

[14] https://www.fcc.gov/maps/residential-fixed-internet-access-service-providers-by-census-block/

[15] https://www.newyorker.com/news/daily-comment/we-need-real-competition-not-a-cable-internet-monopoly

[16] https://www.freepress.net/sites/default/files/resources/internet-access-and-online-video-markets-are-thriving-in-title-II-era.pdf

[17] https://arstechnica.com/information-technology/2017/05/title-ii-hasnt-hurt-network-investment-according-to-the-isps-themselves/

[18] https://www.guidestar.org/profile/41-2106721

[19] http://beta.latimes.com/business/hiltzik/la-fi-hiltzik-portugal-internet-20171127-story.html

[20] https://www.pbs.org/newshour/show/fcc-chair-ajit-pai-explains-wants-scrap-net-neutrality

(interview with PBS, I pulled arguments from here)

[21] https://techcrunch.com/2017/05/19/these-are-the-arguments-against-net-neutrality-and-why-theyre-wrong/

(related article)

[22] http://oti.newamerica.net/publications/policy/the_cost_of_connectivity_2013%20

[23] https://www.amazon.com/Fine-Print-Companies-Plain-English/dp/1591846536

Book can be bought here