Patterico's Pontifications

6/12/2023

Turns Out Repealing Net Neutrality Wasn’t Disastrous After All

Filed under: General — JVW @ 9:05 pm



[guest post by JVW]

Ajit Pai, who suffered the ridiculous fear-mongering among the anti-capitalist tech elite and their allies, takes a well-deserved victory lap:

Do you remember where you were five years ago today, on June 11, 2018? I’d be surprised if you don’t. For that was the day the internet ended — the day the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC’s) repeal of so-called “net neutrality” regulations went into effect.

Why was this a big deal? What led apparent journalists to prepare lists like “The six terrible ways your life will change when Net Neutrality dies”? What led apparent celebrities like Alyssa Milano and Mark Ruffalo to issue fevered tweetstorms, saying that repeal of net neutrality was “one of the biggest” issues “threatening our democracy,” and an “authoritarian dream”? What led public officials to claim that this decision put “lives at risk”?

It was over eight years ago, just after the 2014 midterm elections delivered Congress into GOP hands, when the Obama Administration first starting floating this idea of the government regulating the Internet in order to prevent those awful ISP companies like AT&T, Spectrum, Verizon, and Time-Warner from throttling our streaming if we didn’t pony up for premium service, or rapacious content providers like Twitter, Facebook, and Google to start making us pay to see pictures of the grandkids or watch YouTube videos. You know who saw through all of this nonsense way back then? Our esteemed host did. Here is what Patterico wrote back in November 2014, just a couple of weeks after the election [original emphasis in all cases below]:

It seems to me that the Net Neutrality proponents are trying to repeal the laws of supply and demand through legislation. Such efforts always end badly. We should re-label the effort “Net Communism.” Let me explain.

The Internet promotes this illusion of a Shangri-La world of unlimited access to unlimited data for free. Of course, we all realize (if we think about it) that this isn’t quite the case. You have to pay at both ends of Al Gore’s information superhighway.

On the receiving end, whether you access the Internet through your phone or your computer, you typically have to pay an ISP for access. You could go to a Starbucks and grab their free WiFi, but somebody has to pay for that access (hint: it’s Starbucks). They pay for it, and provide it to you for free, to lure you there and sell you overpriced coffee-style drinks and pastries. But someone has to pay.

On the serving end, you must pay as well. As you have probably noticed (since you’re here) I have a Web site. I pay to maintain the URL, and I pay hosting fees to a company that hosts the site on a server. Because I don’t pay thousands of dollars every month, the server capacity I can purchase is limited. I share a server with several other sites that also typically do not need a dedicated, gold-plated server. This arrangement typically suits my needs, but the site is not necessarily able to sustain a link from Matt Drudge. (I have found this out before.)

[. . .]

But what if I could somehow convince the government to order the ISP to treat my Web site “equally” — even though I don’t pay more? Then, instead of having an incentive to increase capacity (you pay us more and we’ll give you more bandwidth), the hosting company would have no choice but to allow that Drudge link to pound the shared server, melting every site on it.

That’s because the government’s order to the hosting company would be a price control. In effect, the government would be ordering the hosting company to provide $10,000 a month worth of access for $80.

And what happens when price controls are instituted? If you answered: “shortages” you get the gold star.

A couple of months later, P. came back with an argument that hit upon the crux of the matter:

Listen up, people.

Once the federal government is in control of the Internet, it is just a matter of time until it imposes oppressive policies that will burden those who criticize government. All in the name of “fairness” and “equality,” of course.

Today of course, the magic word would be “equity” and not “equality,” but our host was absolutely right. Patterico easily dispatched with some counter-arguments from the “government regulation can fix every problem” crowd, though our host did have to return to the subject here, and here. He also pointed out to us the excellent argument advanced from a libertarian perspective at Reason, and closed the matter for the time being by relating how the imposition of Net Neutrality by the Obama Administration had unsurprisingly led to fee increases in Internet service.

Fortunately for everyone, newly-inaugurated President Donald Trump appointed the redoubtable Mr. Pai to be Chairman of the FCC, and he withstood cheap demagoguery from the usual suspects to win confirmation later that fall. In December of 2017, the FCC voted by a three to two majority to discontinue the Obama era regulations. Mr. Pai remembers much of the hysteria surrounding that vote:

Senator Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.) proclaimed, as did “news” outlet CNN, that this was “the end of the Internet as we know it.” Not to be outdone, a columnist at the New York Times moaned that “the freewheeling internet has been dying a slow death,” and that repealing net neutrality rules “would be the final pillow in its face.” The Senate Democratic Caucus’s Twitter account proclaimed, “If we don’t save net neutrality, you’ll get the internet one word at a time” — putting each word on a separate line to emphasize the danger. Famed telecommunications regulatory experts like anonymous street artist Banksy and Silicon Valley representative Ro Khanna predicted that internet applications would become pay-per-view, with consumers having to pay $1.99 per Google search or to purchase them in packages. And for good measure, multiple U.S. senators called the decision “un-American.”

The Pai family would also bear the brunt of left-wing ire, including thuggish intimidation attempts. Various professional grievance groups forecast — stop me if you’ve heard this one before — that it would be their community who would be especially put at a disadvantage with the repeal of Net Neutrality. It seems like damn near everybody — from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to the National Association of Realtors to the ACLU predicted calamity. Mr. Pai is here to set the record straight:

In sum, the critics were confident and clear: A digital apocalypse was upon us. Half a decade later, we can now make a sober assessment of their predictions. Were they right?

In an era defined by the paranoid style of American political argument, it may not surprise you to learn that they were not. In fact, they were diametrically wrong. The evidence is indisputable today that in the five years since the FCC’s decision to repeal net-neutrality regulations went into effect, American consumers are benefiting from broadband networks that are stronger and more extensive than ever. According to independent measurement service Ookla, average fixed broadband speeds in the U.S. are 287 percent faster today than they were in June 2018 (269.28 Mbps download speeds today versus 93.98 Mbps in 2018). Average mobile broadband speeds have increased even more, at 570 percent (156.51 Mbps versus 27.47 Mbps). Millions more Americans have access to the internet today compared with 2018, thanks in large part to private investment in digital infrastructure.

And on top of that, consumers are benefiting from more choice than in 2018. Indeed, competition has not just increased but transformed since then. Residential fiber deployment hit an all-time high last year. Wireless companies like T-Mobile are providing high-speed 5G fixed wireless service to millions of customers. Companies like Starlink are launching low-Earth-orbit satellites to support residential-broadband service, especially in harder-to-reach rural areas. And cable companies are expanding their footprint and upgrading their systems to enable much faster speeds.

This is precisely what our host and others were telling us back in 2014-15: leaving the Internet largely unregulated by the FCC would open it up to better options, awesome innovation, and increased investment from industry. Tightly regulating it, a la Net Neutrality, would diminish all of those benefits. And to those regulation advocates who had unfavorably compared the U.S. to Europe in terms of Internet coverage, Mr. Pai has this rejoinder:

The contrast between America’s broadband consumers and their European counterparts during the Covid-19 pandemic is telling. Americans with internet access largely were able to rely on broadband networks to do videoconference calls, stream in high-definition, and otherwise stay connected. Abroad, however, a key European commissioner felt compelled to ask streaming services to throttle video content to standard definition. Why? Because he feared that otherwise digital “infrastructures might be in strain.” I’d argue they were “in strain” partly because the European Union has had quite strict net-neutrality regulations that meaningfully undermine the incentive for investment in high-capacity broadband infrastructure. Fortunately, neither I nor any other public official in the United States had to make a similar request, then or since.

Mr. Pai acknowledges that repealing Net Neutrality didn’t exactly prevent censorship on the Internet, but points out that it didn’t come from those evil ISPs, but from the likes of Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook, and notes that the Twitter executives had especially dire predictions of ISP meddling in free speech issues when in fact it was Twitter itself who was arguably the worst offender. Ironically enough, that has helped make the case that Ajit Pai and his allies were trying to make all along: that the problem would come not from ISPs, but from content providers. Somehow that doesn’t seem to bother the left. These uncomfortable outcomes will make it difficult — but not impossible — for Democrats to credibly restore Net Neutrality, and the problems that President Biden has had filling the tie-breaking seat have kept the issue at bay for the most part, and it no longer seems like much of a priority for Team Brandon.

Final thoughts on what has become a very long post ought rightly to belong to Mr. Pai. Here we go:

Five years from that seminal June day when net-neutrality regulations were repealed, you probably don’t hear much about the issue anymore. I don’t either. In fact, the closest it comes is when someone stops me and asks whether I still have the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup mug that John Oliver helped make famous in 2017 during his fact-free rant about net neutrality. (Answer: You bet I do.) The primary reason the issue has receded is that the FCC’s decision was the right one: It has resulted in enormous benefits for broadband consumers. Conversely, the over-the-top rhetoric has over time revealed itself to those of good faith as, well . . . completely over-the-top. And I suppose those who were simply looking for a reason to be outraged now have moved on to the next thing. In any event, if you’ve read to this point, congratulations: You managed to survive the end of the internet as we know it and can now tell your story — even online.

Kudos to Ajit Pai, Brendan Carr, and Mike O’Reilly, the three FCC commissioners who had the stones to stand up against the dominant media narrative and vote to repeal Net Neutrality, and kudos to Patterico who was there early in support of trashing the bureaucratic domination of a vital medium of information exchange. They were — are you listening, Barack Obama? — on the right side of history.

– JVW

27 Responses to “Turns Out Repealing Net Neutrality Wasn’t Disastrous After All”

  1. TL;DR – Ajit Pai and Patterico were right about Net Neutrality all along. The pro-bureaucracy side was not.

    JVW (e359db)

  2. It would not have stopped with net neutrality.

    Suppose I need 27TB of backup storage. How dare Google or Microsoft try to charge me extra for that! I also need some really high-speed connections to sue it, of course. That, too should be free!

    I have a reason, too, but I shouldn’t have to give it, so I won’t.

    Think this is silly? How is it more silly than demanding my ISP build out hardware so I can pig as much bandwidth as I “need”?

    Kevin M (2d6744)

  3. Suppose I need 27TB of backup storage. How dare Google or Microsoft try to charge me extra for that! I also need some really high-speed connections to sue it, of course. That, too should be free!

    I have a reason, too, but I shouldn’t have to give it, so I won’t.

    Yep, that’s pretty much the point that Patterico was making almost nine years ago. Once the camel gets its nose in the tent. . .

    JVW (3fd880)

  4. I wonder if John Oliver will admit that he was wrong about Net Neutrality.

    norcal (8b5267)

  5. @4

    I wonder if John Oliver will admit that he was wrong about Net Neutrality.

    norcal (8b5267) — 6/12/2023 @ 10:51 pm

    Nope, norcal.

    We ‘ded’.

    ‘memba?

    whembly (d116f3)

  6. Great post, JVW.

    DRJ (fd3827)

  7. The funny thing? Bandwidth is going up and prices are coming down. The cost of Netflix et al is going up, but that’s mostly due to the cost of their content and their ambitions.

    I know the providers are spending some money on bandwidth reduction (e.g. local servers/cache). Under Net Neutrality perhaps they wouldn’t have to but the ISP would have had to spend more to accommodate the bandwidth waste. Which would have slowed the drop in rates/Mb.

    Net Neutrality was always just tilting the cost structure towards content providers, and like most government intervention provided little benefit while adding unintended consequences.

    Kevin M (2d6744)

  8. The cost of Netflix et al is going up, but that’s mostly due to the cost of their content and their ambitions.

    I mean when you’re paying millions and millions to not only the Obamas, but the Sussexes too. . .

    JVW (12a3a1)

  9. Great post! Thanks, JVW.

    felipe (8f56c3)

  10. Yeah, no.

    What Pai leaves out, and people who don’t actually work in this field miss, is that the slack was taken up by the states when Pai neutered the FCC.

    You can see the state-level legislation here: https://broadbandnow.com/report/net-neutrality-state-laws , but the entire west coast and a big chunk of other states passed net neutrality laws. Anyone remember Pai getting slapped down trying to prevent that? He was told he cannot wield authority he abdicated, and so the states did what a slimy telecom revolving-door critter refused to do.

    That’s why Comcast and Rogers and so on are behaving.

    john (aff6cb)

  11. So the states managed to prevent the ISPs from doing the things the ISPs said that they had no intention of doing but which the foaming-at-the-mouth anticapitalist left insisted that they would do anyway? Perhaps there’s a small kernel of truth there, but I doubt that it goes too far. I think it’s way more likely that these state legislatures were simply engaging in the time-honored tradition of grandstanding in order to save face and placate their populist flank anyway, given that Republican dominated states like Idaho, Mississippi and West Virginia were just as likely to impose these laws as were Democrat strongholds like Massachusetts, New York, and California (the California Senate bill being sponsored by Scott Wiener is a huge clue that I am correct about this just being empty grandstanding, if you are familiar with Sen. Wiener’s legislative history).

    And it does not appear that the states on your list which imposed Net Neutrality regulations had any better outcomes than those that did not, at least if this Best and Worst States for Broadband 2023 list is anything to go by.

    JVW (1ad43e)

  12. Sen. Wiener’s legislative history includes authorship or sponsorship of most of the legislation that has forced local governments to authorize housing development, and which is therefore responsible for the largest boom in housing starts in decades (caused by local anti-development city councils and county boards being forced to allow the housing they otherwise would have blocked).

    He’s quite likely the most successful legislator in the state legislature today in terms of the *substance* of his bills.

    aphrael (588ff0)

  13. One of the things that really pisses me off on the internet are incompetent tables, like the one in JVW’s last link @11. It’s like they think everyone has 480×640 screens and a table that takes up very little of the real-estate has to have a horizontal slider (and column titles that aren’t fixed!).

    Kevin M (2d6744)

  14. That table is also nuts for New Mexico. Half the population lives in cities where everyone has access to broadband (by their defintion) for under $60/month, yet they give that number as 11%. True that some of them still use the incumbent phone company’s 3Mb DSL, but they have access to better. They probably have converter boxes to degrade HDTV for their old TV sets, too.

    Kevin M (2d6744)

  15. aphrael (588ff0) — 6/13/2023 @ 4:26 pm

    Now I’d like to see him sponsor legislation to build more dams (the last CA dam was built in 1979) and to stop sending so much delta water to the ocean. More residents require more water.

    norcal (8b5267)

  16. Fortunately for everyone, newly-inaugurated President Donald Trump appointed the redoubtable Mr. Pai to be Chairman of the FCC,

    Wait, wait. We all need a minute to double-check something. Is it even possible that a post on the Patterico blog included — incidentally, as an aside — a bit of praise for Trump and GOP policies?

    Some sort of accident, either by Trump in his appointment, or by JVW in his mention of the recent Republican administration?

    Some sort of miracle?

    An admission-against-interest?

    If this seeming compliment did happen, what should be inferred from it about policy preferences for 2024’s elections?

    Pouncer (a71239)

  17. Sen. Wiener’s legislative history includes authorship or sponsorship of most of the legislation that has forced local governments to authorize housing development [. . .]

    He’s quite likely the most successful legislator in the state legislature today in terms of the *substance* of his bills.

    It’s true that he has accomplished a great deal in that regard. On the other hand, Sen. Wiener wants to have his cake and eat it too. If he were serious about helping increase the supply of housing, he would support modifying the CEQA regulations, at the very least adding a part which would hold activists financially liable if they are determined to have brought frivolous lawsuits against developers to slow down or stop projects. He could also move to strike language which forces prevailing union wages in new construction and thus drives up the costs. But he does neither, because he’s not about to gore the sacred oxen of his ideological allies.

    And Sen. Wiener also files an awful (emphasis on awful) lot of legislation each year, and certainly some of it is going to be good, but that doesn’t mitigate the baneful effects of some of his rotten legislation (look no further than his support for hard-left criminal justice reform). Abigail Shrier takes him apart in this City Journal piece, though she does stipulate that he’s a very effective legislator.

    JVW (15d80d)


  18. Wait, wait. We all need a minute to double-check something. Is it even possible that a post on the Patterico blog included — incidentally, as an aside — a bit of praise for Trump and GOP policies?

    Oh please knock it off, Pouncer. Yes, this blog is rightfully critical of Donald Trump, because Donald Trump is a stupid and selfish horse’s ass whose great con is to make angry right-leaning populists think that he is on their side instead of just solely on his own. And don’t pretend for one damn moment that the better bloggers on this site have never given Mr. Trump credit when credit is due.

    JVW (c12c9c)

  19. There are many Trumpers suffering from long butthurt, JVW.

    norcal (8b5267)

  20. He’s quite likely the most successful legislator in the state legislature today in terms of the *substance* of his bills.

    Wiener also seems to have a, um, project for destroying single-family neighborhoods. His legislation allows property owners to construct 4-plexes on R-1 lots, and wipes out most height limits. Five-story apartment complexes can be build immediately adjacent to R-1 housing on C-1 lots originally set aside for groceries, churches or similar neighborhood support.

    WHat is ironic is that many of these cities ahd been trying to resist hulking McMansions and now ho have a 60 foot high wall of apartment windows overlooking everyone’s back years like a tidal wave. People who have their house decrease in value by 100s of thousands of dollars due to one of these “neighbors” are rightly upset.

    See here, for an example: https://i.imgur.com/PaDNfqe.jpg

    This is the kind of overreach that ends up with a popular revolt. Go ask Jerry Brown about Prop 13.

    Kevin M (2d6744)

  21. @18: As in, “So long, and thanks for all the judges.”

    Kevin M (2d6744)

  22. Except for that one in South Florida.

    Kevin M (2d6744)

  23. @20: No, I never learned to type. Obviously.

    Kevin M (2d6744)

  24. > Wiener also seems to have a, um, project for destroying single-family neighborhoods.

    As he should. We can no longer afford them — the price of housing *cannot* come down unless we build on a large scale, and the best way to do that is to densify.

    There were better options a quarter century ago, but California’s refusal to allow housing construction went on too long, and now there are only different varieties of bad options.

    The fault isn’t Wiener’s for recognizing it — it lies instead with local policy makers over the last quarter century who created this problem.

    aphrael (80f4aa)

  25. All the money for politicians in the state comes from people who live in single-family homes. And some of them are off-limits. You won’t see thousand-unit complexes going up in Mendocino or Marin. Or in South Central LA (can’t have gentrification, now, can we?).

    But aphrael, you seem pretty cavalier here with other people’s hopes and dreams. What happened to the pursuit of happiness in your world?

    Kevin M (2d6744)

  26. Donald Trump is a stupid and selfish horse’s ass whose great con is to make angry right-leaning populists think that he is on their side instead of just solely on his own.

    Without putting agreement into the record, I so stipulate. At least, for the nonce.

    I *DO* agree with Milton Friedman’s notion that our democracy works and does good — not by putting good men into office, but — by making it politically profitable for bad men to use their offices to do good things. Trump politically profits by appointments like Amy Barrett, by administrators like the currently praised Ajit Pai, by “interpreters” like Kayleigh McEnany, and even by the morally scrupulous Mike Pence.

    I also note that the modern monolithic media ignores Ajit Pai, etc. My point, dating back to the 2016 primary season — you can check the Patterico archives yourself — is that our watchdog media only fulfills its traditional role when dogging the GOP. When a Clinton or a Biden mishandles sensitive documents or sells access to foreign nationals, the story is – if mentioned at all — relegated to the back pages. When Trump does — again, stipulating that such things occur among bad people “on both sides” — the headlines ensure the public at least hears about it. How we react to the news is up to us.

    Returning briefly to the original point about net neutrality, Trump’s VP Mike Pence deserves at least a little credit. The US VP is, these days, the usual figurehead for national space policy. Under Pence, the government kept out of the way, allowing Bezos and Branson and Musk to grandstand as they liked. Musk wanted to keep his toy rockets delivering payload, so he put his own network devices (Starlink) into whatever empty cargo space each launch could lift. Actually delivering broadband was almost accidental… falling upwards, indeed! Mike Pence, almost accidentally, allowed cheap orbital access to happen. Now VP Harris and DoT secretary Buttigegg seem to be deliberately slowing things down, on the frontlines of space. Private enterprise’s success in orbit — apparently — is not politically profitable.

    Pouncer (dfb8d1)

  27. Ah, I failed to include this. Pouncer’s evidence exhibit #567 regarding Trump’s crimes:

    https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/news/washington-secrets/networks-devote-291-minutes-to-trump-scandals-0-seconds-to-bidens

    Pouncer (dfb8d1)


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