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Former FCC chairman destroys the anti-net-neutrality argument point by point

FCC's Ajit Pai, Tom Wheeler and net neutrality

The Federal Communications Commission, under the new stewardship of former Verizon lawyer Ajit Pai, is moving at speed to nullify Obama-era net neutrality rules. Those rules, orchestrated by former FCC chairman Tom Wheeler, ensure that internet service providers can’t violate the principles of net neutrality, and forces ISPs to treat all customers’ internet traffic equally.

ISPs generally agree that net neutrality is a nice thing in public statements, but the ISPs (and their new champion Pai) claim that the “onerous” and “overbearing” rules imposed by Wheeler are destroying investment and generally ruining the internet for all the well-meaning cable companies out there who just want to do the right thing!

Now, that probably smells a little funny to anyone who’s actually dealt with a cable company in the last few years. But when you go deeper, the whole thing is a real crock of crap, as Wheeler explains in a thorough new interview.

Wheeler sat down with Fast Company to talk through the rules that he imposed as the head of the FCC, and address the arguments Ajit Pai and the telecoms industry are now making. It’s worth reading the whole interview, but some points stand out as being particularly important:

FC: Pai likes to say that ISP spending on infrastructure has been chilled by the Open Internet order. Is that a true assessment of what’s happened?

TW: First of all, that assertion is balderdash. That so-called study is highly suspect because it was done by somebody who has never liked the open internet rules, has always taken the position of the ISPs, and during my tenure was exposed for having selectively chosen information to make that same point…in their financial filings they say they are spending a constant amount–they say they are spending about 15% of revenue on infrastructure investment.

Wheeler goes on to address the other big argument ISPs have made: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. He points out a number of cases in the last decade where ISPs have violated net neutrality principles, and the FCC has tried to regulate the ISPs to prevent that. In the cases Wheeler points out, the FCC was taken to court and lost, since the FCC was deemed not to have the authority to regulate ISPs to prevent breaches of net neutrality. That’s why Wheeler ultimately pushed through a decision re-classifying ISPs as Title II carriers, allowing tighter regulation.