This Thursday, December 14th, the FCC plans to remove network neutrality protections. Republican Commissioners and Chairman Ajit Pai justify the decision by claiming that the market will naturally protect subscribers from predatory big ISP behavior. Unfortunately, the FCC’s own numbers disprove their theory. We dug into the data that reveals how 177 million Americans will be left without any market protection following net neutrality repeal.
Visualizing The Data
Using FCC 477 data, we created a visualization of relevant data. This map focuses on the people and businesses at greatest risk – where they are limited to options from providers that have violated network neutrality in the past or have admitted the plans to violate it in the future.
For a larger image, download this version [18 MB png].
The results are not inspiring. More than 129 million people are limited to a single provider for broadband Internet access using the FCC definition of 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload. Out of those 129 million Americans, about 52 million must obtain Internet access from a company that has violated network neutrality protections in the past and continues to undermine the policy today.
In locations where subscribers have the benefit of limited competition, the situation isn’t much better. Among the 146 million Americans with the ability to choose between two providers, 48 million Americans must choose between two companies that have a record of violating network neutrality.
Look at the East Coast, where the problem is particularly bad, except for maybe NYC, where we did not include Altice, which recently purchased Cablevision. We did not feel that we had enough evidence of its history to include it as a past violator.
Download the full East Coast map [12 MB png]
From Virgina to Maine, there are 74 million Americans. Nearly 15 million will soon be limited to a single broadband provider that has already violated network neutrality. 15.5 million can only choose between 2 providers that both violated net neutrality. Another 3 million have no broadband Internet access available.
Download the full California map [9 MB png]
California has a total population of 39 million. 10 million Californians have no choice for broadband except for a single company known to have violated network neutrality. Another 9.5 million have two options for broadband Internet access but both have violated network neutrality. 2 million people have no broadband access.
When the FCC repeals network neutrality, the 129 million Americans with no choice in providers will join the 48 million with a choice solely between past violators and another 29 million Americans lacking broadband altogether to total 206 million Americans who have been abandoned to the whims of massive cable and telephone monopolies.
In 10 years of working with community-based providers and small ISPs, we have only seen one thing that encourages more investment from the monopoly ISPs: competition. Removing network neutrality protections will enable these large firms to increase their margin without investing in new services, leading to less investment for the least connected. It will decrease investment and competition in that sense. But as firms like AT&T cut deals with other monopolies, expect AT&T’s ISP rivals to face more barriers to their own success, leading to more consolidation and less overall investment. These are the trends a rational person should expect following FCC Chairman Pai’s holiday gifts to the biggest ISPs.
For our analysis, we focused on the two biggest cable and telephone monopolies: AT&T, Verizon, Charter, and Comcast. These firms have multiple violations of both the letter and spirit of the rules around network neutrality and have spent millions to prevent the FCC from enforcing the rules.
Free Press compiled a list of violations and here is some additional evidence: AT&T exempted DirecTV from its data caps; AT&T and Verizon on data cap exemptions; Verizon throttling Netflix; Verizon Lawyer tells federal court it wants paid prioritization; Comcast removes pledge against paid prioritization; Charter messes with inter-connection points to create fast lanes. There is more – such as Comcast’s throttling BitTorrent while lying to subscribers about it
Not all of these violations are necessarily specifically violations of network neutrality as defined in the 2015 FCC Order. But they all demonstrate the obvious motivation of monopoly-minded firms to maximize short-term revenue by setting up virtual tollbooths. Some smaller firms may also engage in violating network neutrality, though for different reasons. Smaller firms are unlikely to be able to extort payments from Netflix, for instance, but they can exert pressure on their users to avoid needed upgrades. In short, there is more than enough evidence to be supremely concerned about impact of the FCC’s looming decision to repeal network neutrality. Particularly where people are captive to large monopolistic companies.
A final note on the underlying data – because the FCC data is collected at the census block level, these numbers almost certainly understate the scale of the problem. A census block may be divided between two non-overlapping providers, resulting in the claim that it is competitive despite all inhabitants only having a single option. Similarly, a census block may be only partially served in reality despite official government records indicating all inhabitants have broadband access.
Thanks to H. Trostle and Christopher Barich for the research and mapping behind this analysis.