Was I wrong about net neutrality?

By Adam Earnheardt


“You were wrong about net neutrality,” a friend texted me last week.

The text included a link to the latest U.S. broadband report from Ookla, a company that provides free internet speed tests.

According to the report, there was a nearly 36-percent increase in download speeds (i.e., downloading pictures, movies, music to your devices) in 2018 and a 22-percent increase in upload speeds.

This was his definitive proof that my pleas for net neutrality were unnecessary.

You see, about 18 months ago, I wrote a column encouraging readers to participate in Net Neutrality Day and why we should fight to keep the internet (mostly) open, (mostly) free and (mostly) devoid of government regulation.

The laws governing net neutrality, before they were repealed by the Federal Communications Commission and put into effect in June 2018, were meant to safeguard benefits for all users, regardless of income and education, and for all businesses, regardless of size and scope.

In essence, net neutrality offered all users and businesses a level playing field. Repealing it, most neutrality supporters believe, stifles creativity and progress, creates higher costs for consumers and slows access for those who can’t afford to pay for faster download speeds.

Was I wrong about net neutrality?

I’m usually the first to admit when I’m wrong, but there was something missing from my friend’s text. Using this one report to support the outcome of the repeal tells only a fraction of the story.

There’s no denying that broadband speeds are on the rise. You can read the report at speedtest.net. While you’re there, use their “free” app to test your speed.

When testing your speed, remember that Ookla is collecting information. You’re actually paying for that “free” test with data collected from your visit.

Last year, their app was used to perform more than 115 million “consumer-initiated” tests. Millions of tests create a ton of data, and that’s exactly how Ookla was able to determine the rise in U.S. broadband speeds.

But it doesn’t paint the whole picture, and it certainly doesn’t calm our concerns over the repeal.

It’s only been six months since the neutrality rules were scrapped, but some are concerned that we soon could see broadband companies bundling services, much like satellite and cable companies bundle TV channels.

Want access to ESPN and other sports websites? Pay for a premium sports package and get the access you want.

“Call this the calm before the storm,” I texted back to my friend. “Speeds may be up, but someone’s gotta pay for it.”

“Check your internet bill next December,” I added with a winky-faced emoji.

The jury is still out on the impact the repeal will have on you and me.

One thing’s for sure: we’ll need more than a cursory report on internet speeds before we see the full impact of the repeal.

Dr. Adam Earnheardt is chair of the department of communication at Youngstown State University. Follow him on Twitter at @adamearn and on his blog at www.adamearn.com.

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