The concept of net neutrality has been around since the dawn of the internet. In a nutshell, net neutrality means that internet service providers (ISPs) provide equal access to all content across the web without throttling content and/or blocking certain websites. (See also: What You Should Know About Net Neutrality.)
Net neutrality rules were put in place by the Obama administration in 2015. However, in December 2017, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted in favor of removing net neutrality laws. FCC chairman Ajit Pai believes that the previous rules cost ISPs money and provided no incentive to invest in infrastructure that expands and enhances connectivity, which ultimately benefits consumers. "Consumers will benefit from greater investment in digital infrastructure, which will create jobs, increase competition and lead to better, faster and cheaper internet access – especially in rural America." Mr. Pai told The Wall Street Journal. (See also: Does Net Neutrality Stifle Investment and Innovation?)
Proponents of net neutrality believe that the internet should be free for everyone to access and use. They argue that removing net neutrality laws will result in large telecommunications companies having the power to suppress views and provide an online voice to only those who can pay a premium. (See also: Net Neutrality Issue (Again): Pros and Cons.)
The removal of net neutrality laws directly benefits the nation's leading ISPs, such as AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T), Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) and Comcast Corporation (NASDAQ: CMCSA), by allowing them to favor their own content over that of their competitors and by creating "fast lanes" for online content for which they can charge higher prices.
Investors who want exposure to these telecommunication conglomerates or leading content-producing companies that may become acquisition targets should consider purchasing one of these exchange-traded funds (ETFs).
Formed in 2004, the Vanguard Communication Services ETF aims to provide similar returns to the MSCI US Investable Market Communication Services 25/50 Transition Index. The fund does this by investing the lion's share of its assets in securities that make up the underlying index. This index consists of U.S. large-, mid- and small-capitalization companies that operate within the telecommunication services sector. Top holdings in the ETF's portfolio include Verizon, AT&T and Facebook, Inc. (NASDAQ: FB).
The Vanguard Communication Services ETF has $995.27 million in assets under management (AUM) and charges investors a low annual management fee of 0.1%, which is well below the 0.45% category average. As of July 2018, VOX has five- and three-year annualized returns of 5.31% and 3.27% respectively. Although the fund has a disappointing year-to-date (YTD) return of -5.16%, it has performed better over the past three months, returning 2.41%. The ETF also offers a 4.1% dividend yield. (See also: Dialing Up Telecom ETFs.)
The Fidelity MSCI Telecommunication Services ETF, created in October 2013, seeks to mirror the performance of the MSCI USA IMI Telecommunication Services 25/50 Index. The fund achieves this by investing at least 80% of its asset base in constitutes of the benchmark index. The underlying index includes stocks in the U.S. telecommunication services sector. The fund has a heavily concentrated portfolio – its top two holdings of AT&T and Verizon carry a combined weighting of 46.34%.
The Fidelity MSCI Telecommunication Services ETF has an asset pool of $115.17 million. FCOM also has low management fees, with an expense ratio of just 0.08%. Over the past three years, the fund has returned 6.15%. Similarly to VOX, the fund's YTD performance of -6.49% as of July 2018 has disappointed investors. However, fortunes appear to have changed recently – the ETF has returned 2.83% over the past month. In comparison, the SPDR S&P 500 ETF (NYSEARCA: SPY) returned just 0.58% over the same period. The fund pays a dividend of 3.36%. (For more, see: The 5 Largest Telecom ETFs.)
Launched in March 2018, the iShares Evolved US Media and Entertainment ETF invests the majority of its assets in U.S. large-, mid- and small-cap media and entertainment companies as defined by machine learning algorithms. The methodology behind the algorithms intends to provide market exposure to media and entertainment firms as opposed to selecting outperforming stocks. The ETF's top three allocations include Twenty-First Century Fox, Inc. Class B (NASDAQ: FOX) at 6.26%, Twenty-First Century Fox, Inc. Class A (NASDAQ: FOXA) at 6.21% and The Walt Disney Company (NYSE: DIS) at 6.11%.
The iShares Evolved US Media and Entertainment ETF has AUM of $5.4 million and charges an annual management fee of 0.18%. IEME has returned 12.28% over the past three months and has returned an impressive 10.7% in the past month alone. Now that net neutrality rules no longer exist, internet service providers such as AT&T and Verizon could have the incentive to acquire content-producing companies to offer multi-tiered online content. This may make companies like CBS Corporation (NYSE: CBS) and Viacom, Inc. (NASDAQ: VIAB) possible takeover targets. IEME's portfolio provides exposure to both of these content producers with allocations of 5.14% and 4.28%, respectively. (See also: Trademarks of a Takeover Target.)