Did any of that happen prior to 2015?
People keep saying this, but it completely ignores a lot of things, and is really a bit of a straw man.
First off, telecom is the field Iíve been working in the past half-decade, specifically in economics dealing with both regulations and mergers. When Iím not thinking about the Celtics, this is what Iím thinking about. I know more about this than I do the NBA salary cap.
The first 15-20 years of the commercial internet (depending when youíd like to say the Internet was born) operated largely under the 2015 regulations the FCC codified, but voluntarily. In the mid-2000s, some ISPs looked into creating various pricing regimes and/or blocked content without any notification. BitTorrent was a major target. The excuse was that many of the files being downloaded were pirated. While that may have been true, certainly not all were, it wasnít even clear that a majority was, and the content was universally blocked, as ISPís tried to slow down peak users. VOIP was another major target, as companies that provided both phone and internet service didnít want to allow voice competition. Comcast settled for millions of dollars for blocking BitTorrent. Smaller providers also made settlements for blocking VOIP. So when people say that companies will outright block websites without any notice, theyíre saying that because it already happened. VOIP is quickly becoming the leading way to provide voice telephony ó itís significantly cheaper than the expensive equipment required for traditional switched telephony. VOIP might never have happened if providers had successfully blocked it in the mid-2000s. When people say that getting rid of net neutrality might stifle innovation, theyíre saying it because thatís exactly what would have happened with VOIP.
Anyway, the (Bush) FCC worked with NCTA to create some Net Neutrality rules as a result of some of the above actions. They also sought to codify it for companies when they came before the FCC mergers. When Bell South bought AT&T (and kept AT&Tís name), they had to abide by net neutrality rules until 2012 as a condition for approval. When they bought Direct TV in 2015, they again agreed to abide by many of the regulations for several more years. When Comcast bought NBC, they agreed to the same conditions for several years (which conveniently expire next year). So has Comcast tried to do a lot of the stuff that Net Neutrality prevented? For the most part, not recently, but thatís due to the fact they were prevented from doing so by another mechanism that is shortly expiring. The same goes for AT&T to a lesser extent.
Meanwhile, the FCC tried to create Net Neutrality rules. They twice tried to do so ó both times they lost in Court. The second time was a hullabaloo. The FCC had worked with the telecom industry to pass regulations that everyone could be happy with. Several months after the regulations went into effect, Verizon got cold feet and sued. The telecom lobby was at least as mad at Verizon as the FCC was, because everyone knew that new rules could be worse if Verizon won, which is what happened in earl 2014. The Court said that the FCC needed to reclassify ISPs so that they could be regulated under Title II, which is a lot more stringent. Ultimately thatís what happened in 2015, and was reversed today.
During the interregnum period of net neutrality (from 2014-2015) Netflix entered into an agreement with Comcast for paid prioritization. Thereís no reason to expect these deals wonít occur in the future, which ultimately will lead to higher prices for consumers.
Anyway, the point is that regulation wasnít initially needed because the industry policed itself. Then a few companies started to cheat a bit, and so regulation was needed. The companies that cheated generally had their activities stopped by the FCC in the course of other proceedings (Verizon has had to abide by some of the Bush era net neutrality rules which were attached to the spectrum licenses they won in 2008, a restriction which ends next year also), so we havenít fully seen what unfettered companies can do. The other point is that many/most Americans canít switch. Between 50-75% (depending on the study) of households have one high-speed broadband provider. This lack of choice is precisely why regulation is needed, because market forces canít correct it.
Finally, the 2015 rules pretty much kept in place the rules that most companies had been operating under, and codified them. The internet is an incredibly large portion of the economy, and the FCC adjust voted to change the rules without any economic analysis to support them and say what would happen. Iíve talked with a couple FCC economsits off the record, and theyíre upset and embarrassed at the final product, as they werenít allowed to even design a model to see if this would hurt or help the economy.
All in all, today was a travesty, and there will be real consequences. Maybe not immediately, since several of the big players are prevented from doing much in the next year, but they are coming.