What The Media Should Know About Net Neutrality

In advance of the Federal Communications Commission's February vote on net neutrality rules, media have promoted distortions of the proposed regulations, suggesting net neutrality is an unpopular, “Orwellian” takeover of the internet that may stifle innovation, hurt the economy, and raise costs for consumers. In reality, net neutrality has broad bipartisan support, promotes competition, and has been the guiding principle behind Internet innovation since its inception.

REALITY: Net Neutrality Is The Guiding Principle That Made The Internet Successful 

REALITY: Internet Founders And Companies Say Net Neutrality Is Key To Innovation, Good For Competition And Economy

REALITY: Net Neutrality Enjoys Broad Bipartisan Support

REALITY: Majority Of American Public Supports Net Neutrality

REALITY: Congress Put A Moratorium On State And Local Internet Taxes

FCC Will Vote On Net Neutrality Regulations In February

FCC Plans Vote On Net Neutrality Rules For February. The Wall Street Journal reported that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will vote in February on proposed net neutrality rules intended to regulate “how broadband providers treat traffic on their networks,” deciding whether to “ban broadband providers from blocking, slowing down, or speeding up individual websites.” The FCC “has been considering which section of telecommunications law to use for regulating broadband internet service,” since a January, 2014 federal appeals court ruling invalidated previous regulations. [The Wall Street Journal1/2/15]

Media's Coverage Of Net Neutrality Debate Is Peppered With Conservative Myths

MYTH: Net Neutrality Is An “Orwellian” Takeover Of The Internet

Fox News Analyst: “For Them To Call It Net Neutrality Is Orwellian.” On the November 10 edition of Fox Business' Varney & Co, Fox News senior judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano reacted to Obama's 2014 call for strong FCC protection of net neutrality by saying, “For them to call it net neutrality is Orwellian as heck, because it is not neutral. He basically wants to take the choice of buyers and sellers out of the marketplace.” Fox Business host Stuart Varney agreed, saying the term net neutrality is “nonsense.” [Fox Business, Varney & Co.,11/10/14]

REALITY: Net Neutrality Is The Guiding Principle That Made The Internet Successful 

Internet Innovator Vinton Cerf: Loss Of Net Neutrality Would “Fundamentally Undermine” Principles That Made Internet Successful. Vinton Cerf, a computer scientist recognized as one of the fathers of the Internet, told Congress that a system without net neutrality “would fundamentally undermine the principles that have made the Internet such a success.” [U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, 2/7/06]

Harvard Cyber Law Professor Lawrence Lessig: Equal Access Is “The Core Value That Defined The [Internet's] Power.” In a 1999 talk, Harvard Law professor Lawrence Lessig described net neutrality as the key difference between the Internet and the telecommunications companies that preceded it: “With [a telephone network], power is vested centrally; with the [Internet], it is vested in individuals.” He explained that neutrality is important because unmediated data transfers are “the core of the Internet, the core value that defined its power, the core truth that made innovation around it possible.” Essentially, “the network could not discriminate in the way that AT&T could.” [“Cyberspace's Architectural Constitution,” 6/12/00]

CRS: Net Neutrality “Ensure[s] Equal Access And Non-Discriminatory Treatment” For Internet-Based Content. The Congressional Research Service (CRS) explained the general principle of net neutrality in September 2008:

As congressional policymakers continue to debate telecommunications reform, a major point of contention is the question of whether action is needed to ensure unfettered access to the Internet. The move to place restrictions on the owners of the networks that compose and provide access to the Internet, to ensure equal access and non-discriminatory treatment, is referred to as “net neutrality.” There is no single accepted definition of “net neutrality.” However, most agree that any such definition should include the general principles that owners of the networks that compose and provide access to the Internet should not control how consumers lawfully use that network; and should not be able to discriminate against content provider access to that network. [Congressional Research Service, 9/16/08]

MYTH: Net Neutrality Would Impede Innovation, Harm Economy

WSJ: “Many Conservatives And The Broadband Industry” Say “Net Neutrality Is A Step Too Far,” “Will Stifle Innovation. The Wall Street Journal wrote that “Many conservatives and the broadband industry say utility-like regulation is a step too far, arguing it will stifle innovation in the industry”:

Many conservatives and the broadband industry say utility-like regulation is a step too far, arguing it will stifle innovation in the industry. That view is held by some pivotal players in the new Congress, such as John Thune (R., S.D.), the incoming chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee.

“The regulatory tools at the FCC's disposal are outdated and its previous efforts to create rules to regulate the Internet were struck down by the courts,” Sen. Thune said in a statement. “It's hard to imagine that its new attempt will escape legal challenges and avoid the kind of regulatory uncertainty that harms Internet innovation and investment.” [The Wall Street Journal1/4/15]

Wash. Post's Rubin: “If The Government Regulates The Internet, It Will Get More Expensive, Impede Innovation And Investment.” The Washington Post's Jennifer Rubin wrote in a November 14 post for the Right Turn blog that, “If the government regulates the Internet, it will get more expensive, impede innovation and investment and risk making everyone's service worse.” [The Washington Post, Right Turn, 11/14/14]

REALITY: Internet Founders And Companies Say Net Neutrality Is Key To Innovation, Good For Competition And Economy

National Bureau of Economic Research: Net Neutrality “May Stimulate” Investment And Is “Unlikely” To Have A Negative Economic Impact. In a May 2014 working paper for the National Bureau of Economic Research, economist Joshua Gans explained that “strong net neutrality may stimulate content provider investment” and that “there is unlikely to be any negative impact from such regulation on ISP [Internet Service Provider] investment.” He directly disputed claims that market competition could replace net neutrality principles in sparking innovation: “Counter to many claims, it is argued here that ISP competition may not be a substitute for net neutrality regulation in bringing about these effects.” [National Bureau of Economic Research, May 2014]

Wash. Post: “Companies Are Telling Investors” They'll Continue To Innovate Even Under “Aggressive Internet Rules.” According to The Washington Post's Brian Fung, “companies are telling investors” that they'll continue working to improve their networks under new net neutrality rules, “even if federal regulators adopt aggressive Internet rules.” Fung added that, given the fact that companies “must tell the truth to investors about their plans,” “we can broadly believe what broadband companies are telling Wall Street about how they'd react to aggressive FCC oversight.” [The Washington Post12/17/14]

Google Urged FCC To Issue Net Neutrality Regulations To Promote Competition And Spur Investment. According to The Wall Street Journal's Digits blog, Google's director of communications law Austin Schlick wrote a letter urging in the FCC to issue net neutrality regulations. Though the plan would expose Google's work to new regulations, Schlick said the plan would give Google access to utility infrastructure, which would “promote competition and spur more investment and deployment of broadband internet service.” [The Wall Street Journal, Digits,12/31/14]

MYTH: Net Neutrality Is An Exclusively Liberal Issue

CNBC's Eamon Javers: President Obama's “Liberal Political Base Likes The Idea” Of Net Neutrality. On the November 12 edition of CNBC's Squawk Alley, correspondent Eamon Javers outlined what he saw as political gamesmanship on the part of the Obama administration on the issue of net neutrality. Javers suggested that the president's decision to support open internet policies was driven by his “liberal political base.” [CNBC, Squawk Alley11/12/14]

REALITY: Net Neutrality Enjoys Broad Bipartisan Support

Time: “Conservatives Overwhelming Back Net Neutrality, Poll Finds.” According to a recent survey by the Internet Freedom Business Alliance (IFBA), conservatives “overwhelmingly” support net neutrality. As Time reported:

Some 83% of voters who self-identified as “very conservative” were concerned about the possibility of ISPs having the power to “influence content” online. Only 17% reported being unconcerned. Similarly, 83% of self-identified conservatives thought that Congress should take action to ensure that cable companies do not “monopolize the Internet” or “reduce the inherent equality of the Internet” by charging some content companies for speedier access. [Time11/11/14]

MYTH: Net Neutrality Lacks Support Among Voters

CNBC's Jon Fortt: “Mob Of People” Who Want “Free And Open Internet” Don't “Fully Understand What They Are Arguing For.” On the November 11 edition of CNBC's Squawk Alley, co-host Jon Fortt belittled proponents of a “free and open Internet,” calling them a “mob of people” who do not “fully understand what they are arguing for.” [CNBC, Squawk Alley,11/11/14]

REALITY: Majority Of American Public Supports Net Neutrality

University Of Delaware: American Public “Overwhelmingly Opposes Internet 'Fast Lanes.'” According to an October survey by the University of Delaware Center for Political Communication, respondents “overwhelmingly oppose[] Internet 'fast lanes,'” which could result from a lack of enforceable net neutrality rules. Eighty-one percent of respondents “oppose” or “strongly oppose” allowing Internet service providers (ISPs) to charge extra for faster delivery speeds, including 85 percent of Republicans, 81 percent of Democrats, and 76 percent of Independents:


MYTH: Net Neutrality Will Raise Costs For Consumers

Fox & Friends First: “Skeptics” Say Net Neutrality Rules Would Force Consumers “To Face An Immediate Increase” In Internet Bills. On the January 5 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends First, Shannon Bream reported that “skeptics, including FCC Commissioner Michael O'Reilly say the changes would force internet service providers to contribute to a Universal Service Fund” -- an existing FCC fund that collects contributions from telecommunications companies in order to expand access to underserved areas. Bream highlighted O'Reilly's remarks that net neutrality rules “means that consumers would face an immediate increase in their internet bills.” [Fox News, Fox & Friends First1/5/15]

Politico: Net Neutrality Opponents Argue Rules “Would Prompt A Spike In Consumers' Broadband Bills.” Politico wrote that ahead of the vote on proposed net neutrality rules, “the threat of new regulation has galvanized industry lobbying,” and groups like the National Cable and Telecommunications Agency have “argued that net neutrality rules issued under Title II would prompt a spike in consumers' broadband bills.” [Politico12/29/14]

The Daily Signal: “FCC Interference In The Internet Marketplace Would Hurt” Consumers. In a December 8 post on The Daily Signal, the Heritage Foundation's Michael Sargent wrote that net neutrality rules are not only “unnecessary” and seek “to limit innovative business practices,” but would also “shift additional costs back to consumers and away from companies through bans on sponsored data plans and other pro-consumer practices.” [The Daily Signal, 12/8/14]

REALITY: Congress Put A Moratorium On State And Local Internet Taxes

Nonpartisan Free Press: “Congress Puts To Rest the Great Internet Tax Hoax Of 2014” By Passing Moratorium On Local And State Internet Taxes. On December 14, Free Press reported that Congress passed a moratorium on state and local taxes for internet sales and services with the reauthorization of the Internet Tax Freedom Act (ITFA). The extension of the ITFA put to rest claims made by net neutrality opponents that regulating internet services as a public utility would lead to new taxes:

On Saturday, Congress passed the $1.1 trillion spending package, which includes a provision to extend a moratorium on local and state taxes for Internet sales and services. The Internet Tax Freedom Act (ITFA), reauthorized through October 2015, bans states from imposing taxes on Internet access no matter how the FCC classifies it.

This extension erases any concern that reclassifying Internet-access services under Title II of the Communications Act could lead to a new tax burden on consumers. Industry-backed economists from the Progressive Policy Institute (PPI) had claimed reclassification could lead to as much as $15 billion in new taxes -- a claim repeated in the press and in cable-industry advertising that targets Net Neutrality rules. The renewal of this legislation reaffirms that there is no threat of new taxes from Title II. [Free Press, 12/14/14]

Alexandrea Boguhn, Rachel Calvert, Craig Harrington, Connor Land, and Ellie Sandmeyer contributed to this research.

This post has been updated.