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Telecom's Top Lobbying Arm Oddly Keeps Undermining The Industry's Own Claims About Net Neutrality

Published: December 6, 2018
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Source: Tech Dirt

The telecom industry (and by proxy Ajit Pai's) primary justification for killing net neutrality -- and FCC authority over ISPs in general -- was that sector oversight was stunting network investment. Of course repeated analysis of the data shows that simply isn't true, but that hasn't stopped telecom lobbyists and the lawmakers who love them from repeating those claims in the hopes that repetition forges reality.

And while telecom lobbying organizations like US Telecom continue to cling tight to this false narrative, the "science" they've been shoveling out in recent months to try and "prove" these claims leaves a little something to be desired. Last October, for example, US Telecom released a study it claimed somehow proved that the Ajit Pai's attacks on net neutrality had boosted broadband investment:

"Broadband investment rebounded in 2017, as a series of positive consumer and innovation policies and a pro-growth regulatory approach helped reverse the industry’s previous spending pullback, according to new research released today by USTelecom."

The problem: net neutrality wasn't actually repealed until June of 2018.

This week, US Telecom released another study crowing about what's some fairly modest recent broadband deployment growth. As part of the report, the industry highlights how US fiber deployment jumped from 21 to 29% of US homes between 2015 to 2017, a period when the FCC's classification of ISPs as Title II common carriers (purportedly an investment killer) was in effect:

"In just a year and a half, from the end of 2015 to mid-2017, U.S. fiber deployment grew from 21 percent to 29 percent of homes and competitive availability of wired broadband at 25 megabits per second (mbps) download and 3 mbps upload increased from 31 percent to 55 percent. At lower speed tiers, and if fixed wireless is included, competitive availability is even greater: 77 percent at 10 mbps download and 1 mbps upload; and 91 percent at any speed. By mid-2017, broadband at 100 mbps download was available to 89 percent of Americans, compared to 10 percent in 2010. Moreover, fiber deployment and competitive availability of broadband at higher speeds continue to grow rapidly today, driven by competitive upgrades."

So one, it should be noted that this growth is solid but not spectacular by any means; it would likely be significantly higher if one of US Telecom's top missions wasn't to try and stifle meaningful sector competition at every conceivable opportunity. Still, this period -- from 2015 (when the FCC created its latest net neutrality rules) to 2017 -- was the exact period the industry keeps telling us suffered from "unprecedented" stifled industry investment due to "heavy handed regulation" like net neutrality. And yet here US Telecom is insisting that the exact period exhibited "rapid" growth "driven by competitive upgrades." Why it's almost as if the telecom sector's top lobbyists aren't ideologically or ethically consistent.

Of course the firm then proceeds to proclaim that if we want this growth (that wasn't supposed to exist) to continue, we need to double down on policies that embrace an "investment-friendly environment" that will allow this growth to continue. Oh, and more subsidies for US Telecom's client companies who've already received billions, of course:

"Therefore, it will remain imperative for policymakers to maintain an investment-friendly environment for broadband deployment, including providing additional financial support in areas that need it. Governments should target support to specific areas where the economics do not support deployment or upgrades, and funding must be dedicated and direct, using a mechanism like the Connect America Fund."

As we've been noting, said "investment-friendly environment" includes effectively neutering the FCC's ability to police bad behavior in telecom, then shoveling all remaining responsibility to an FTC that lacks the authority, willpower, or desire to actually police giant ISPs like AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast (the entire point). Said "investment-friendly environment" also currently involves trying to ban states from protecting broadband consumers from false advertising and fraud.

Granted, nobody actually reads reports by groups like US Telecom outside of a few execs, consumer groups, and beat reporters, but the "science" they shovel forth does often tend to cement itself into the base layers of more policy conversations than you'd prefer. Still, after the last few months of exceptionally flawed efforts at "science," perhaps US Telecom should spend less time accidentally emailing us their talking points, and more time pursuing something vaguely resembling intellectual consistency.

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