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New Research for "Net Neutrality Action Day"

The Federal Communications Commission already has received nearly 6 million comments about its efforts to reverse what is known as net neutrality. (V. Carter)
The Federal Communications Commission already has received nearly 6 million comments about its efforts to reverse what is known as net neutrality. (V. Carter)
July 12, 2017

ST. PAUL, Minn. - Net Neutrality Day of Action is today, and as the Federal Communications Commission takes steps to reverse net neutrality, a term for a free and open internet, researchers say a key assumption for the move does not hold water.

In his argument to revisit the Obama-era rule, current FCC chairman Ajit Pai cited a paper published in an academic journal that claimed the agency had failed to consider the economic impacts on industry. Muhlenberg College assistant professor Jefferson Pooley, co-author of a new study published in the same International Journal for Communication, said Pai's position is based on a paper riddled with factual errors and unsubstantiated claims.

"We showed that this core claim was incorrect," he said, "that in fact, economists had been perhaps more active in coming up with the net-neutrality rules than ever before."

Pooley's team also found that the article cited by Pai was paid for by CALinnovates, a public-relations group that specializes in promoting policy for AT&T, an internet service provider that Pooley said could benefit if open-internet rules are reversed. Proponents of rolling back net neutrality have said regulating internet service providers as a utility hampers innovation and investment.

Pooley said he believes the failure to disclose industry funding amounts to "information laundering," making it possible for the FCC director to cite an academic publication without any trace of AT&T's fingerprints. He said it's important for the public, and public officials, to know whose interests are behind research.

"We would probably dismiss a claim that AT&T made directly against net neutrality, since they stand to gain financially," he said. "So instead of making the argument directly, they funded academics who published an article in an academic journal."

Pooley said CALinnovates threatened legal action against the journal and the University of Southern California, its host, unless material involving the firm was removed.

The FCC is accepting public comments on its plan, called "Restoring Internet Freedom," through Monday at fcc.gov.

The CALinnovates article is online here, and Pooley's research is here.

Veronica Carter, Public News Service - MN