Congress Is Living in an Alternate Reality When it Comes to Net Neutrality

Congress is at it — again. The House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology launched a new attack on Net Neutrality in a Tuesday hearing that will be riddled with industry misinformation.

The hearing, deceptively titled “Common Carrier Regulation of the Internet: Investment Impacts,” was another misguided opportunity for members of the House, including Subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden (R-Oregon), to interview industry-sponsored witnesses and repeat unsubstantiated claims about the supposed economic harms of the FCC’s open Internet protections.

No fan of open Internet protections: Subcommittee Chair Greg Walden

What Walden and his hand-picked witnesses refused to admit on Tuesday is that protecting the Internet isn’t the same thing as regulating Internet content. The FCC’s rules are the same safeguards we’ve always had in place to ensure that owners of broadband networks don’t interfere with users’ online speech. The only difference is that the FCC has put these rules back on solid legal footing.

And the rules have done nothing to harm broadband-provider investment — but that didn’t stop Walden and his cohort from making empty claims to the contrary today.

Flimsy Arguments

During the hearing Rep. Walden said he believes Net Neutrality rules are “the wrong approach,” which will “continue to dampen investment,” “create uncertainty,” and “not inspire innovation.”

He and his allies in Congress just can’t get over the fact that millions of Internet users demanded these rules, and that a majority of people polled — including voters on the right — say that Net Neutrality protections are warranted.

Instead they’re listening only to the phone and cable lobby, which continues to make widely discredited allegations that the FCC’s rules have led to a “meltdown” in investment in digital networks.

Never mind that none of this is true. Free Press has analyzed claims about investment and shown that they’re bolstered by flimsy analysis that ignores the industry’s own SEC reporting on expenditures.

Double Dealing

Our fact sheets dispel the doomsday investment scenarios painted by a phone and cable lobby favorite Hal Singer — an economist who fronts for the Progressive Policy Institute while getting paid on the side by the like of AT&T, Comcast and Verizon via financial ties to the Washington consultancy Economists Incorporated.

This double dealing hasn’t stopped some members of Congress and certain FCC officials from citing Singer’s analysis as fact. But he either undercounted, mischaracterized or just plain ignored massive tracts of investment data that didn’t serve his argument against the Net Neutrality rules.

Singer often partners with economist Robert Litan to attack open Internet protections. Litan, who also has financial ties to phone and cable companies, was forced to resign from his position at the Brookings Institution after he misrepresented his affiliation with the think tank in congressional testimony earlier this year.

Today’s hearing featured another industry favorite, Robert Shapiro, who co-founded the same Progressive Policy Institute that lists Singer as a senior fellow. Shapiro does double duty as the founder of the economic advisory firm Sonecon, which counts AT&T as a client. He also publishes analysis via a fellowship at the Georgetown Center for Business and Public Policy, which lists AT&T, Comcast, the U.S. Telecom Association and Verizon among its supporters.

These industry “analysts” aren’t giving up on their lucrative bid to dislodge the FCC’s Net Neutrality protections. But no amount of spin can overcome the mountain of evidence demonstrating that the rules are working. The rules haven’t hurt investment in the slightest, and there’s no plausible reason to suspect they will.

No Impact

In the first full quarter since the FCC restored these protections for Internet users, more than half of 18 publicly traded ISPs have boosted capital spending. We’ve seen Comcast begin to roll out new gigabit-fiber services to 18 million locations. And on the same day as the hearing Comcast reported that the third quarter of 2015 was its “best quarter in six years,” especially in its broadband business.

Time Warner Cable has accelerated its network upgrades. AT&T has announced plans to double its deployment of next-generation broadband services. And Verizon has accelerated its plans to roll out 5G technology, the next generation of mobile broadband over mobile wireless networks.

Meanwhile consumers can rest easy knowing that their rights to connect and communicate will be upheld.

Members of the subcommittee would do well to listen to Internet users. Instead they continue to rely on a tired roster of industry-funded analysts well practiced in the art of deception.

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