One of the telecom industry's lavishly sponsored policy protagonists, South Dakota Senator John Thune, weighed in on internet neutrality a few days ago. Thune, according to the Center For Responsive Politics, ranked second among Senate recipients of telecom industry donations (just over $150,000) during his re-election bid in the 2015-16 cycle.
Ergo, in keeping with the hostility that the industry has held toward net neutrality, Thune has long been against the policy of leaving internet service in the regulatory realm of the Federal Communications Commission. The FCC imposes time-consuming and burdensome requirements on internet service providers (ISPs) that seek to change the terms and mechanics of their internet delivery systems.
Some, like me, see this as a protective mechanism for consumers who would otherwise be at the mercy of their ISPs, which, unfettered by FCC oversight, would find it easier to make changes in delivery and prices for content and speed. Some, like Thune and the ISPs themselves, see it as a restriction on their abilities to innovate and invest in better equipment and service.
In 2015, Thune was incensed by an FCC decision that essentially let the FCC continue its internet oversight. Thune called that decision "partisan," a "power grab" and "regulatory overreach," a reflexive response that dovetailed with the telecom industry's reaction, promising to do all it could to reverse the FCC decision.
For background, Thune's 2016 haul from the telecom industry was a small part of the $900,000 he received from the likes of internet service providers AT&T, Verizon and Comcast through 2017. He's supported well by these folks.
But even as Thune and his significant others in the telecom industry claim otherwise, industry behavior hasn't shown much reluctance to innovate and invest. Last December Investopedia released a report that shows that investment has been stronger than ever since the 2015 FCC decision upholding net neutrality. Investopedia cites an Internet Association study using publicly accessible data that refutes the claim that ISP investments have been hampered by the net neutrality decision. In fact, Investopedia concludes that "their spending has increased since net neutrality."
Of course, all of this is moot now that the Trump administration has named an ISP-friendly commisioner, Ajit Pai, to chair the FCC. Pai has already announced that net neutrality is dead and will end by next month. It's no surprise that 21 states are suing the FCC to overturn Pai's decision.
What's intriguing is that Senator Thune has suddenly become a fan of net neutrality — now that it will no longer be enforced. In the piece I cited at the beginning of this column, Thune claims he "supports rules that prevent blocking, throttling and paid prioritization of internet traffic." I hope the senator will provide us with a list of said rules and how he intends to enforce them.
Meanwhile, spokespeople from AT&T, Comcast and Verizon cross their hearts and hope to die that they'll never mess with internet traffic once net neutrality is terminated next month. Comforting words, I suppose, but like residents of 21 states (many of them "red"), I'm dubious.