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Op-Ed: Five years after Title II net neutrality, the internet still works

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Five years have passed since the Federal Communications Commission removed Title II net neutrality regulations from internet service providers and the World Wide Web is more robust than ever.

Ookla reports that fixed broadband speeds have increased a nearly whopping 300% since June 2018, from 94 Megabits per second to 270 Mbps. Mobile broadband speeds are up 570% from 27.5 Mbps to 156.5 Mbps.

Consumers can thank increased investment in internet infrastructure due to the removal of regulations. Previous to the removal of the regulations, there was a dip in broadband spending by private providers after a Tom Wheeler-led FCC imposed the rules. Those regulations changed the internet from a lightly-regulated information service to a heavy-regulated telecommunications service.

As former FCC chairman Ajit Pai noted recently in National Review, President Obama pushed for the reclassification after the 2014 midterm elections. Pai objected, calling it “a solution that won’t work to a problem that doesn’t exist,” his version of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

After President Trump made Pai chairman in 2017, he quickly went to work to repeal the rules. Progressives framed the issue as “net neutrality,” making preposterous claims about the future of the internet if the classification was removed.

Pai provides an excellent list of some of those in his National Review piece, which makes for a great comedic read. Peter Jacobson noted in an op-ed for the Foundation for Economic Education that CNN declared the removal of Title II as “the end of the internet as we know it.”

“Unfortunately for all kinds of doomsday prophets, extreme rhetoric always looks silly in hindsight when it fails to pan out,” Jacobson wrote.

Pai wrote that hyperbole ruled the day “in an era defined by the paranoid style of American political arguments,” with net neutrality opponents proven to be “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,” he wrote. “Millions more Americans have access to the internet today compared with 2018, thanks in large part to private investment in digital infrastructure.”

Two years after the repeal, the Taxpayers Protection Alliance conducted an investigation to determining if blocking or throttling was commonly occurring, as the proponents of net neutrality regulations opined would happen once the rules were removed. A Freedom of Information Act request to the FCC uncovered just a few hundred complaints related to those issues, and deeper examination of the complaints found that practically all of them could be explained as standard network issues rather than malicious intent on the part of providers.

In places like Europe, bandwidth hogs were asked to throttle speeds during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic while the robust American broadband infrastructure required no such curtailing. In fact, COVID-19 was a U.S. internet success story with people being able to work from home, order groceries, and binge watch their favorite streaming services.

Despite the success story, Democrats continue to foolishly push for the reimplementation of the rules. Fortunately, during most of the Biden administration, the FCC has continued to be without a fifth commissioner, resulting in no headway for the return of net neutrality under Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel. Biden has nominated Anna Gomez to give Democrats a majority after previous nominee Gigi Sohn withdrew, but her confirmation in the Senate should be a lengthy and contentious process.

Rather than focus on misguided regulations, the FCC should concentrate its energy on loosening rules to help close the digital divide.

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