Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai may be spreading fake news about broadband in an attempt to build a record against the net neutrality rules. At least that's how some consumer advocates view the FCC chief's most recent attempts to justify a repeal of the open Internet order.
Speaking at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona this week, Pai called the net neutrality rules "a mistake." The rules, passed two years ago by a 3-2 vote, reclassified broadband as a utility and imposed some common carrier rules on providers. Among other new rules, carriers are prohibited from throttling or blocking content, and from charging higher fees for prioritized delivery.
"Our new approach injected tremendous uncertainty into the broadband market," Pai said. "After the FCC embraced utility-style regulation, the United States experienced the first-ever decline in broadband investment outside of a recession. In fact, broadband investment remains lower today than it was when the FCC changed course in 2015."
Those facts apparently come from the broadband industry trade group US Telecom, which recently said that providers' capital expenditures dropped to $76 billion in 2015, from $77 billion the year before.
But others are questioning the numbers. The advocacy group Free Press, which compiled statistics from stock reports, says total capital expenditure spending by 13 carriers (including Comcast, Charter, AT&T and Verizon) increased in the two years following passage of the net neutrality rules.
“Pai keeps repeating the utterly debunked claim that the FCC’s Net Neutrality rules are utility-style regulations that are hurting broadband deployment," Free Press policy director Matt Wood stated this week. "This is false on the law and false on the facts."
Consumerist, which also crunched the numbers, adds that Comcast's stock price is now 26% higher than before the net neutrality rules were passed, while AT&T's stock is up more than 20%.
Pai also argued that deregulation will lead to benefits for consumers, and held up recent moves by wireless carriers as an example.
Specifically, Pai linked carriers' new unlimited data offerings with the agency's recent decision to end an inquiry into whether AT&T and Verizon violated net neutrality rules by exempting their own videos from consumers' data caps.
"In the days following our decision, all four national wireless providers in the United States announced new unlimited data plans or expanded their existing ones," Pai stated. "Preemptive government regulation did not produce that result. The free market did."
But others rightly point out that it's difficult to see why the FCC's decision to endorse data-cap exemptions would be connected to carriers' decisions to offer unlimited data. On the contrary, customers with unlimited data don't need to worry about data caps at all, let alone whether particular material is exempt from their caps.
Net neutrality advocates like Free Press argue Pai's questionable leaps of logic should raise red flags. "Pai’s relentless spin and his inaccurate numbers beg the question: What else is Pai misleading us about?" Wood stated this week. "People need to take a moment to double check the alternative facts coming from this FCC chairman.”