As usual, John Oliver is not helping.
Earlier this month, the HBO funnyman revived his crusade for "net neutrality," taking a segment of his show to scold and mock newly appointed Federal Communications Commission chairman Ajit Pai, who is aiming to roll back regulations on Internet Service Providers (ISPs) established by the Obama administration. "Every internet group needs to come together like you successfully did three years ago," declared Oliver. "We need all of you."
Three years ago is when Oliver made his first push for "net neutrality" rules, backing a call from President Obama to impose on ISPs the "strongest possible regulation" to prevent monopolistic behavior. Since Columbia Law School professor Tim Wu coined the term "net neutrality" in 2003 to describe the principle that ISPs should not be allowed to discriminate among Internet traffic — i.e., that Comcast, Verizon, and other companies that provide Internet access to consumers should not be allowed to, say, prevent users from watching YouTube while letting Netflix play, or cause CNN's website to load slower than Politico's — activists have maintained that the Internet faces a dire threat to the principles of openness and transparency that have long governed its use. They are desperate to, in their words, "save the Internet."
In 2014, after the D.C. Circuit Court reined in a second attempt by the FCC to regulate broadband beyond its legal ambit, Oliver and thousands upon thousands of activists pressured then-chairman Tom Wheeler to reject a compromise plan and do what he had previously deemed unacceptable: buck longstanding precedent and reclassify broadband as a "telecommunications service," bringing it under the purview of Title II of the 1934 Communications Act. In the spring of 2015, that is what he did, ramming the scheme through on a party-line vote, and making ISPs subject to a statute written to defang the Bell System telephone company.
Net neutrality was always a solution looking for a problem. When, in 2010, the FCC announced its first extensive regulations on ISPs (what would become the core of the 2015 rules), it could cite just four examples of anticompetitive behavior, all relatively minor. In 2005, for example, a North Carolina telephone company blocked the Internet phone service Vonage. In 2007, Comcast slowed down ("throttled") the operations of file-sharing service BitTorrent.