This week, the Maine Legislature’s Committee on Energy, Utilities and Technology held a public hearing on LD 1364, a bill that would prohibit state funds from being transferred to internet service providers (ISPs) unless they commit to abiding by the now-repealed 2015 FCC order that instituted so-called “net neutrality.”
Curiously dubbed the “Open Internet Order”, the FCC deemed that companies who provide access to the internet would be considered communications utilities, instead of information services. Chairman Ajit Pai led the effort to repeal that order, and restore the framework for ISPs that had functioned since the 1990s.
Passing LD 1364 would double down on a misguided policy that would undermine internet freedom and ultimately hurt consumers.
Proponents of net neutrality sell the idea as a critical safeguard for a free and flourishing internet. These claims ignore the fact that the rules were only adopted in 2015, after two decades of explosive internet innovation and very few instances of ISP malfeasance.
What spurred the success of the internet was not heavy-handed government intervention but rather a light-touch approach that allowed entrepreneurship to thrive. This is the same framework to which President Bill Clinton and Congress committed in the 1990s to maintain the culture of pure innovation and information decentralization that is core to the philosophy of the World Wide Web.
Under this principle, those titans of the web (Google, Amazon, YouTube, and Twitter), institutions that we take for granted today, grew to hundred-billion dollar enterprises. In 2019, they provide immeasurable benefit to the lives of hundreds of millions of Americans who utilize their services daily.
Additional internet regulations were not needed in the 90s or 2015, and are not needed today. While net neutrality’s supporters claim that ISPs will block or throttle content to silence dissent and maximize profits, these fears have not materialized. In fact, average download and upload speeds in the U.S. climbed significantly over 2018. Speedtest, a site that measures internet speeds across the world recorded a 35.8 percent increase in broadband download speeds and a 22 percent spike in uploads over 2018. Mobile download speeds also increased over 20 percent last year.
Listening to the aspiring central planners, one might think that without net neutrality, the web has become a fascist-corporate wasteland, accessible only to those who can pay to play. In reality, the internet is the single-largest factor to democratizing economic growth in the 21st century.
As long as one owns a connected device–a group to which 95% of Americans belong–one can access the entirety of human knowledge and connect with like-minded individuals across the globe (even through the language barrier) to conduct business, study a new subject, spread their art or make a new friend.
In the scope of human history, this is truly a revolutionary shift. Low-income Americans can access this wealth of possibilities, empowering them to improve their economic standing. The internet is, at its core, an opportunity engine.
Despite predictions that repealing net neutrality would reduce incentives for internet providers to invest in capital improvements, the data show that investment actually increased in the months after the FCC’s 2017 decision. In fact, net neutrality itself had a dampening effect on investment. Between 2011 and 2015, when neutrality rules were being debated by the FCC, the mere possibility of implementing them reduced ISPs’ investments in network upgrades by $150-$200 billion. And while net neutrality rules were in place from 2015 to 2017, investment in broadband fell for the first time ever outside of an economic recession.
The FCC did the right thing in repealing net neutrality. Trying to pressure ISPs who service Maine into abiding by these rules is a mistake. The cruel joke of “net neutrality” is that the people who would suffer the most are the ones that advocates claim to be helping, those who need opportunity the most.