What an Internet Analyst Got Wrong About Net Neutrality

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In a recent article, respected technology industry analyst and blogger Ben Thompson argued that he supports net neutrality, but thinks the Federal Communications Commission is right to repeal rules that ban broadband providers like Comcast and Verizon from blocking, slowing down, or otherwise discriminating against legal content. Thompson argues that designating broadband providers as common carriers is a "heavy-handed” way to enforce net neutrality, echoing industry voices, and FCC chair Ajit Pai. Thompson argues "pre-existing regulation and antitrust law, along with media pressure, are effective at policing bad behavior." But it’s far from clear that that pre-existing protections can prevent bad behavior by ISPs. The FCC spent years trying to find some way to police internet providers without labeling them as Title II carriers. It failed repeatedly, and Thompson doesn't offer a convincing alternative approach. To bolster his claim that earlier regulations are effective, Thompson cites a 2005 FCC investigation into claims that Madison River Communications, a North Carolina-based DSL internet provider, blocked access to the internet-based phone service Vonage to favor its own voice service. As a result of the investigation, Madison River agreed not to block Vonage or similar providers, with no need for the Obama-era regulations. The problem with this argument is that at the time of the FCC investigation, DSL was classified as a Title II service. The agency even cited common-carrier rules in its agreement with Madison River. That's important, because the next time the FCC tried to stop a broadband provider from hindering a service, a federal court ruled that it had overstepped its bounds.


What an Internet Analyst Got Wrong About Net Neutrality Pro-Neutrality, Anti-Title II (Ben Thompson)