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Net Neutrality Debate: Study Finds ISP Investment Has Increased Since Net Neutrality Rules Adopted

Internet service providers have not slowed investment into infrastructure and networks since the passing of net neutrality rules despite claims to the contrary made by industry forces, a Free Press study found.

The report from the consumer advocacy group found aggregate capital investments made by internet service providers actually increased by 5 percent during the two-year period following the implementation of the Federal Communications Commission’s Open Internet Order when compared to the two years prior to the implementation of the rules.

Read: The FCC Announced Its Plan For Rolling Back Net Neutrality Rules And Is Accepting Public Comments

Free Press said capital investments were higher at 16 of the 24 publicly traded ISPs since net neutrality rules were put in place, with the primary increases being seen in core network expansion.

Cable companies increased physical network investments by 48 percent in the two years following the adoption of net neutrality rules — including 2016 marking the highest single-year jump in investment since 1999 — as compared to the two years prior. Telecom fiber network investment also saw a 50 percent increase last year.

The study runs counter to arguments made by telecom and cable companies, which publicly have made the case that investment in network infrastructure has slowed since being reclassified as common carriers under Title II of the Communications Act.

“If investment is the FCC’s preferred metric, then there’s only one possible conclusion: Net neutrality and Title II are smashing successes,” Free Press research director S. Derek Turner, the author of the report, said in a statement.

“The restoration of Title II for broadband internet access was designed to preserve what the FCC rightly calls the internet’s virtuous cycle of investment and innovation. All available data indicate that the 2015 decision to adopt strong rules on a sound legal footing is working as intended, benefiting internet users, broadband-access providers and the myriad businesses that distribute services over the open internet.”

Read: Net Neutrality News: FCC Chairman Ajit Pai Says His Plan Has Been Misrepresented By Opponents

The rules created no limitations on investment but made it possible for the FCC to regulate ISPs to enforce net neutrality principles, which including prohibitions on blocking content, slowing or throttling connections, and paid prioritization that provides beneficial treatment to certain services for a fee.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, who has proposed undoing the Title II classification adopted by the FCC under President Barack Obama, has used a lack of infrastructure investment as part of his reasoning for why the protections need to be undone. Pai has stated in the past that investment is down by 5 percent in the last two years — the opposite of the findings by Free Press.

Turner called the industry estimates “rigged” and said ISPs and the think tanks they fund to produce research are “distorting” data. Free Press noted that while ISPs have publicly claimed net neutrality rules have harmed investment, "not one single publicly traded ISP has ever told its investors [or the Securities and Exchange Commission] that Title II had a negative impact or negatively impacted its investments."