The FCC Says Consumer Backlash Will Protect Net Neutrality
As opposed to, you know, the rules it just gutted.
More than three weeks after the Federal Communications Commission voted to repeal the regulations protecting net neutrality rules, the FCC has finally released the final version of its new regulations. Among the more infuriating provisions: Language that says “no-blocking and no-throttling rules are unnecessary to prevent the harms they were intended to thwart.”
Instead of expressly banning internet service providers from blocking content or throttling it, Ajit Pai’s FCC will instead rely on a “consensus” among the general public and—presumably ISPs themselves—that blocking or throttling content is bad.
“Most attempts by ISPs to block or throttle content will likely be met with a fierce consumer backlash,” the new rules state.
“In the event that any stakeholder [ISP] were inclined to deviate from this consensus against blocking and throttling, we fully expect that consumer expectations, market incentives, and the deterrent threat of enforcement actions will constrain such practices,” they continue. “Such practices can be policed ex post [after the fact] by antitrust and consumer protection agencies.”
But experts say that the policing after the fact (presumably by the Federal Trade Commission) isn’t going to work, and relying on consumer backlash to serve as a deterrent to a craven industry rife with regional monopolies that have shown little interest in pleasing its consumers does not seem to be a particularly effective way to make sure that companies are serving the interests of the people.
ISPs do things that are met with consumer backlash all the time—take, for instance, the very rules I’m writing about right now—and Pai’s FCC has done nothing but enable them. There’s also a widespread consensus among consumers that throttling and blocking content is bad, but there are many examples of ISPs doing it prior to the old net neutrality regulations. AT&T blocking FaceTime was one of the most egregious example; the FCC says that “AT&T contended it did so due to network management concerns,” but AT&T would unblock FaceTime if you paid for a more expensive plan. There are also wireless companies that are throttling data right now without FCC intervention.
Finally, the rules note that the real companies squashing free speech by blocking content are “hosting services, social media platforms, edge providers, and other providers of virtual internet infrastructure.” The examples used here are CloudFlare blocking the white supremacist website Daily Stormer and Twitter deleting an ad by Senator Marsha Blackburn that repeated unfounded conspiracy theories. That the moderation of platforms owned by private companies has nothing to do with net neutrality (nor the First Amendment) remains uncommented upon by the agency.