WASHINGTON – As the FCC 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.
Jefferson Pooley, assistant professor at Muhlenberg College and co-author of a new study published in the same International Journal for Communication, says Pai’s position is based on a paper riddled with factual errors and unsubstantiated claims.
“We showed that this core claim was incorrect, that in fact, economists had been perhaps more active in coming up with the net-neutrality rules than ever before,” he notes.
Pooley’s team also found that the article cited by Pai was paid for by CALinnovates, a PR group that specializes in promoting policy for AT&T, an internet service provider that Pooley says could benefit if open-internet rules are reversed.
Proponents of rolling back net neutrality say regulating ISPs as a utility hampers innovation and investment.
Pooley 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 says it’s important for the public, and public officials, to know whose interests are behind the research.
“We would probably dismiss a claim that AT&T made directly against net neutrality since they stand to gain financially,” he says. “So instead of making the argument directly, they funded academics who published an article in an academic journal.”
Pooley adds that 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 July 17 at www.fcc.gov.Like this story? Sign up for our daily newsletter to get more of our best original news.