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Report Claims Rollback of Internet Rules Based on False Info

The FCC is accepting public comments through Monday on its plan to revoke net-neutrality protections. (transCam/Flickr)

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.”
U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., who chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, has spoken out in support of rolling back federal regulations.
The CALinnovates article is online here, and Pooley’s research is here.