Killing Net Neutrality Was Even Worse Than You Think
The FCC’s controversial move didn’t just kill rules for an open internet — it opened the door to broadband monopolies ripping consumers off with relative impunity
When most people think about last year’s controversial repeal of net neutrality, they likely assume that the rules meant to protect an open internet were the only casualty. In the year since, the telecom sector and its defenders have tried to argue that because the internet didn’t immediately implode in a glorious fireball post-net neutrality, the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) repeal must not have been that big of a deal.
They couldn’t be more wrong.
The FCC’s Orwellian-named “Restoring Internet Freedom” order certainly did kill rules preventing internet service providers (ISPs) from abusing their broadband monopolies to harm competitors and consumers. And it did so in a flurry of controversy and fraud, all while ignoring the opinions of a bipartisan majority of Americans who wanted to keep net neutrality in place.
But the industry-backed repeal quietly had a much broader objective: It all-but obliterated the FCC’s authority to hold ISPs accountable for any number of other bad behaviors. Instead, it dumped most telecom oversight on a Federal Trade Commission (FTC) that experts say lacks the resources or authority to police the sector and punish bad behavior.
“The fight over net neutrality has always been about gutting the FCC’s legal authority to protect consumers and promote competition,” said Gigi Sohn, a former FCC lawyer and advisor who helped craft the agency’s original 2015 net neutrality rules.
With little broadband competition and weakened regulators, big ISPs can now get away with pretty much anything, provided they’re modestly clever about it. For giant telecom monopolies like AT&T and Comcast, the repeal is working just as they intended.
Case in point: Frontier Communications, the nation’s eighth-largest ISP with 3.7 million subscribers, is under fire for charging consumers a $10 monthly modem rental fee even if they already own their modems. Users can usually buy their own modem and avoid such…