During the push to repeal net neutrality in 2017, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai made a lot of big promises. At the top of the list were assurances that if America would only revert back to “light-touch” regulation of the broadband industry (as the two-time Courage Award winner put it), we’d all see huge boosts in network investment, in new jobs, and in access to a “better, cheaper internet” for all Americans.
“It is time for the Internet once again to be driven by engineers and entrepreneurs and consumers, rather than lawyers and accountants and bureaucrats,” he said, on the day he voted to repeal the Obama-era rules. “It is time for us to act to bring faster, better, and cheaper Internet access to all Americans.”
During a visit this week to a nonprofit in Camden, New Jersey, the chairman bashed an effort by congressional Democrats to reinstate net neutrality, calling it a “political strategy” and not an effort to “solve a concrete problem.” “That’s what politicians in Washington do,” he said, “but I am focused on what I think American consumers’ primary concern is: getting better, cheaper internet access, and that’s what the FCC’s been focused on so far.”
Net neutrality is the principle that ISPs treat all data sent to and from customers equally—meaning they can’t throttle speeds to certain services or block legal content, among other practices. To gain regulatory authority and establish rules mandating ISPs uphold net neutrality, the FTC voted in 2015 to reclassify broadband. But then Pai came in and, along with his fellow Republicans on the commission, voted to reverse that reclassification in December 2017, to the pleasure of ISPs.
A year after the repeal, Pai’s claim that net neutrality’s disappearance would spur a broadband investment renaissance and generate new jobs seems dubious at best—likely because, as Ars Technica noted earlier this year, capital investment by ISPs doesn’t revolve around the introduction or repeal of any single government policy.
Meanwhile, the companies that Pai held up as the job creators of the future, if only they could shed those burdensome regulations, have been busy laying off workers in droves.
And now there’s this: News broke yesterday that, despite promises of “cheaper” internet access coming to a neighborhood near you, Verizon customers will be shelling out additional fees to access the next generation of wireless technology.
As consumer group Stop the Cap! reported Wednesday, Verizon customers that wish to access the company’s 5G service in cities like Chicago and Minneapolis will not only have to buy new phones from the company, which was a given, but also switch to a new and pricier plan:
Verizon confirmed its new Mobile 5G service will require a new premium unlimited plan, starting at $85. That is $10 more than Verizon’s current GoUnlimited plan. Customers will also need a Motorola Moto Z3 phone — currently the only model compatible with Verizon’s 5G network, and a special 5G Moto Mod attachment, sold separately.
Frustratingly, the price hike for Verizon customers comes not only after net neutrality’s repeal, but following major GOP tax cuts, which Verizon estimated last year would result in a $3.5 billion to $4 billion boost in cold, hard cash. This also does not include Verizon’s share of the billions in taxpayer subsidies pocketed by the by industry in recent years.
Pai’s biography on the FCC’s website touts a “regulatory philosophy” of supporting rules that result in “more innovation, more investment, better products and services, lower prices, more job creation, and faster economic growth.”
It’s beginning to look like a work of fiction.
In Verizon’s case, the net neutrality rollback was actually followed by decreased investment (again, because one has virtually nothing to do with the other). And then in December, the company announced a 7-percent cut in its workforce. A month later, it announced plans to layoff around 800 employees from its media side-hustle. (AT&T, meanwhile, just announced a price hike for subscribers of its digital service DirectTV.)
With regard to the GOP tax cuts, not only did they not save jobs at Verizon (or AT&T or Comcast), the company immediately announced that it had no plans to divert any of that windfall into the development of new wireless technology, which its own lobbyists have cast as vitally needed to defeat China in a pivotal race for technological superiority (usually while arguing the need for even more government handouts).
Unsurprisingly, Verizon’s CEO remains one of the most highly compensated in the industry. And from the perspective of shareholders, he obviously deserves it. He is, after all, managing to keep billions in taxpayer dollars flowing into the company, all the while laying off American workers only to jack up the price they’ll pay for competitive internet speeds.
According to Pai, who is himself a former Verizon employee, Americans deserve “faster, better, and cheaper Internet access.” And he’s right, they certainly do. They’re already paying for it through the teeth. The only question is now, will such a thing ever arrive?