If you've paid attention to the net neutrality debate, you'll recall that large ISPs routinely threaten to hold back on network investment if governments pass rules protecting an open, healthy internet. They also routinely try to claim that the passage of such protections cause a massive slowdown in overall sector investment, something that simply isn't supported by actual facts (remember them?). Such rhetoric is fear mongering designed to scare regulators away from imposing "job killing regulations," even if those regulations make sense for a telecom market where limited competition fails to keep bad actors in check.
This hollow fear mongering has played a starring role as carriers worldwide begin to deploy faster fifth-generation wireless (5G) networks. You'll recall that both American and European telcos have routinely tried to claim that the deployment of these faster, more efficient wireless networks will be derailed by net neutrality.
Usually, this rhetoric is accompanied by claims that 5G will be the centerpiece of the smart cities of tomorrow, and that net neutrality rules will prevent ISPs from using these networks to provide prioritized connectivity for health and other related services. Ignored is the fact that this has never been a problem, since any well-crafted net neutrality rules carve out massive loopholes for all manner of essential services, especially on the medical front. Of course that doesn't stop ISPs from routinely claiming that net neutrality hurts sick people all the same.
With the Mobile World Congress trade show underway this week in Barcelona, all of this debunked rhetoric is being regurgitated like a bad hairball. Speaking at the trade show, Ericsson CEO Börje Ekholm tried to inform attendees that Europe's net neutrality rules must be weakened lest they derail Europe's efforts to build 5G Networks:
"The principle of net neutrality is not to discriminate [against], throttle or degrade based on content but not all traffic is created equally and we don't believe this will work in the 5G future," he told reporters and analysts. "There will be a need for a regulatory regime that allows service providers to create services that are differentiated based on user experience."
But that's not the principle of net neutrality. The principle of net neutrality is to not discriminate against traffic for anti-competitive reasons. Guys like Ekholm certainly realize they're being disingenuous here, they just hope their audience doesn't. As is industry tradition, Ekholm then tried to suggest that with net neutrality in place, carriers won't be able to provide access to essential, prioritized medical services:
"In relation to the hot topic of net neutrality, Ekholm said that while Ericsson believes in non-discriminatory access to information and data, he added that "not all traffic is created equal". Once remote surgery is being performed over 5G, for instance, it should be given priority over other traffic, he said."
Again, this is something carriers in both the United States and Europe like to parrot repeatedly despite not being true. Europe's rules, like the ones we're about to discard in the States, provided ample leeway for such services. But the idea that "government regulation" will harm the sick is apparently too enticing of a siren song for those looking to demonize protection of a healthy and competitive internet.
Not to be outdone, FCC boss Ajit Pai also parroted industry claims in a speech that net neutrality is a threat to the smart cities of tomorrow (pdf):
"We believe that our decision will give the private sector greater incentives to invest in the 5G networks of the future and bring greater digital opportunity to the American people. And we also believe that our decision is critical for another reason as well. To realize the promise of 5G, we will need smart networks, not dumb pipes. Dumb pipes won’t deliver smart cities. Dumb pipes won’t enable millions of connected, self-driving cars to navigate the roads safely at the same time. In short, dumb pipes won’t give us the networks needed to enable the 5G applications of the future."
Again, any idea that "net neutrality hurts the sick" or stops innovation (smart car or otherwise) dead in its tracks is aggressively misleading. Net neutrality rules almost always carve out ample exceptions to legitimate services, often to a fault. The only thing net neutrality rules traditionally harm is the entrenched telecom monopoly's ability to abuse the lack of industry competition for further anti-competitive gain -- the only thing this debate has ever truly been about. Net neutrality is only a "regulatory burden" if you're doing something anti-competitive. Since entrenched telecom operators can't candidly acknowledge this in the quest for fatter revenues, we're subject to a rotating crop of flimsy straw men instead.