Net Neutrality Won't Hinder Broadband Deployment, Group Argues

In advance of the Federal Communications Commission's vote on net-neutrality rules, advocacy group Free Press argues in a new filing that the agency should reject claims that the regulations will discourage carriers from investing in their networks.

Internet service providers "are strongly committed to deploying and upgrading their networks ahead of consumer demand, because they are confident that doing so is key to future financial prosperity in the face of increasing competition,” the group writes in a 70-page report submitted to the FCC this week.

The group's report comes as the FCC is considering Chair Jessica Rosenworcel's proposal to restore the Obama-era net-neutrality rules.

The agency plans to vote on the proposal on April 25.

Free Press argues in its report that net-neutrality rules are “a non-factor in the minds of ISP executives and investment analysts.”



“Title II and Net Neutrality were not mentioned, or even hinted at, by a single ISP on any full-year 2023 investor calls or at other investor conference,” the group writes in the report, which draws on based on public statements by cable company and telecom executives, and newly released financial data.

The Obama-era open internet order reclassified broadband as a “Title II” utility service and imposed some common carrier regulations on providers -- including bans on blocking or throttling content, and on charging higher fees for prioritized delivery.

The bulk of those rules were repealed during the Trump era. Former chairman Ajit Pai, who championed the repeal, argued that the regulations depressed investment by carriers.

Lobbying groups for the cable and telecom industries are now repeating that claim and arguing to the FCC that restoring the rules will hinder broadband deployment and innovation.

For instance, in December the NCTA--The Internet & Television Association said in an FCC filing that the Obama era net-neutrality order “resulted in more than $5 billion in foregone investment in 2016.” The lobbying group cited a study by the Free State Foundation -- a think tank that opposes regulation -- for that figure.

USTelecom--The Broadband Association likewise told the FCC that restoring the neutrality rules will “impede investment, slowing down broadband deployment, including in rural areas, and impede innovation.”

Free Press counters in its new report that evidence for the industry's “extraordinary claims of doom” often amounts to “anti-regulatory rhetoric,” “misleading and inaccurate tallies of publicly-traded communications firms’ aggregate capital expenditures,” or questionable math.

The organization also has long disputed the idea that the former rules affected investment. Free Press previously said its research showed that capital investments by publicly traded broadband providers increased in the years immediately following the FCC's 2015 vote to impose neutrality rules.

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