October 20, 2020

Ajit Pai Hits CES… To Make Up Some Shit About Net Neutrality

In 2018, you might recall that Ajit Pai had to cancel his CES appearance due to clearly idiotic death threats. In 2019, Pai had to cancel a scheduled appearance due to the government shutdown. Fast forward to 2020 and Ajit Pai finally made it back to CES, and he used the opportunity to… make up some nonsense about net neutrality.

In a cozy, unchallenging chat with the CTA’s Gary Shapiro, Pai once again trotted out the canard that modest net neutrality rules crushed US broadband sector investment, insisting that his hugely unpopular decision to kill net neutrality has resulted in, by golly, some amazing things for American consumers:

“Since we made the decision in December 2017, broadband speeds are up 60 percent according to Ookla, infrastructure investment is up, more Americans are getting connected to the internet than ever before. More fiber was laid in 2019 to homes and businesses in the United States than in any year since they’ve been keeping records, breaking the record we set in 2018.”

But as we’ve been over repeatedly, there’s absolutely no evidence that Pai’s net neutrality repeal actually contributed to those improvements, and the claim that net neutrality hurt broadband investment is indisputably false. It’s simply not debatable. SEC filings, earnings reports, numerous investigations — even the public statements of countless CEOs have shown Pai’s not telling the truth:

“Last September, a massive study reviewed telecom earnings reports and SEC filings between 2009 to 2018 and found absolutely no evidence that the repeal helped spur US broadband network investment. The findings mirrored another major study by consumer group Free Press, which found some ISPs actually invested more while the rules were active.
Numerous journalists have come to the same conclusion after digging through industry earnings reports. Even telecom industry CEOs have admitted repeatedly to investors—who by law they can’t lie to—that the rules had no impact on their broadband investment strategies.”

While broadband speeds have increased, there too is zero evidence that killing net neutrality was to thank for it. Some of the bump is thanks to cable operators upgrading to DOCSIS 3.1, something the FCC had nothing to do with. Some of it is thanks to community broadband fiber builds, something the current FCC actively opposes. And some of it is thanks to merger conditions affixed to AT&T’s 2015 merger with DirecTV by the previous FCC, bringing fiber to 12.5 million homes by an act of regulatory action (ironic given Pai is trying to frame those gains as the product of regulatory restraint).

Pai’s clearly been informed that he’s wrong on most of these points, but like so many in the post-truth era apparently doesn’t care, hopeful that repetition somehow forges reality. Much like he did in 2017 when he celebrated the giant middle finger he’d just given consumers by dancing with a pizzagate conspiracy theorist, Pai took the opportunity at CES to make light of a justifiably pissed public:

“I would like to say that thanks to our efforts, more Americans than ever before, faster than ever before, are able to hate-tweet their favorite FCC chairman.”

Guffaw. It’s worth repeating that the net neutrality repeal didn’t just kill net neutrality, it obliterated the FCC’s ability to hold ISPs accountable for all manner of shady bullshit, be it false advertising, location data privacy scandals, or charging consumers rental fees for modems they already own. That’s before you get to the litany of identity theft and fraud that accompanied the repeal itself, something that doesn’t get any more hilarious in hindsight.
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