The Federal Communication Commission (FCC) on Thursday approved a proposal to open a proceeding aimed at restoring “network neutrality” rules that largely prohibit broadband companies from establishing digital toll roads that charge online service providers for faster access to consumers.
The proposal was approved along party lines, with three Democrat-nominated commissioners voting in favor and two Republican-nominated commissioners siding against it. Network neutrality rules were repealed in 2017 along similar party lines.
“Today, there is no expert agency ensuring that the Internet is fast, open, and fair,” Jessica Rosenworcel, the chairperson at the FCC, said in a statement ahead of Thursday’s vote. “And for everyone, everywhere to enjoy the full benefits of the Internet age, internet access needs to be more than just accessible and affordable. … The Internet needs to be open.”
The proposal put forward by the FCC this week is similar to the Open Internet Order that former President Barack Obama pushed through during his term. The order restricts broadband companies from blocking certain websites, or charging services for faster access to customers, effectively putting upstart websites and services on an equal footing to larger ones like Google, Netflix, Facebook and YouTube.
With the passage of the proposal on Thursday, the FCC will soon accept comments from the public about the matter. Some industry groups have already weighed in on the all-but-inevitable return of network neutrality rules.
“The FCC’s proposal to reinstate Title II regulation of broadband is not only misguided, it is a missed opportunity,” Grant Spellmeyer, the CEO of ACA Connects, which represents small- and medium-sized cable and broadband operators, said in a statement. (Title II refers to the section of a 1934-era law that regulates certain service providers as “common carriers.”)
He continued: “We should be working together to improve broadband access and adoption for all Americans, not relitigating the regulatory battles of the past. We are confident the record will establish that century-old common carrier regulation is unnecessary to safeguard the open Internet and will only impede the delivery of more reliable, more capable, and less expensive broadband service by dampening, if not thwarting, investment, innovation, and competition.”
Spellmeyer expressed concern that applying Title II regulations to smaller broadband providers could do more harm than good.
“Title II regulation is particularly inapt for smaller broadband providers, who lack any semblance of upstream or downstream market power and who would face extraordinary burdens under a common carrier regime,” he affirmed.
Some at the FCC are also concerned that roping broadband providers under Title II — which is what a restoration of the network neutrality rules would do — might face legal challenges that it would not survive.
“Make no mistake: any FCC decision to impose Title II on the Internet will be overturned by the courts, by Congress, or by a future FCC,” Commissioner Brendan Carr said before he cast his “no” vote on Thursday.