FCC Votes to Restore Net Neutrality Guidelines

The Federal Communications Commission April 25 in a 3-2 vote moved to restore net neutrality, granting the government authority under Title II of the Communications Act to oversee broadband providers and enforce the open-internet protections — which prohibit ISPs from throttling data speeds and/or favoring select internet traffic, among other issues.

The Open Internet Order, enacted during the Obama Administration, was repealed during the Trump Administration, which questioned the need for government oversight on a market-driven business.

The FCC, under the Democrat control of Chair Jessica Rosenworcel, sought to restore net neutrality largely for national security reasons, which she said would thwart foreign countries from circumventing scant internet safeguards.

“Broadband is now an essential service. Essential services — the ones we count on in every aspect of modern life — have some basic oversight,” Rosenworcel said at the FCC’s open meeting. “This is common sense. But in a world where up is down and down is up, the last FCC threw this authority away and decided broadband needed no supervision.”

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Ishan Mehta, Common Cause Media and Democracy Program director, said the decision, now dubbed “Safeguarding and Securing the Open Internet,” is a victory for democracy.
“Today’s vote returns control of the internet to the American people instead of corporate interests,” Mehta said in a statement. “The internet is crucial to civic engagement in the United States today. It functions as a virtual public square where social justice movements organize and garner support.”
Former FCC Chair Michael Powell, now CEO of industry trade group NCTA, said the return to net neutrality was largely a politically-driven decision on an issue that has no problems.
“Public utilities are notorious for chronic underinvestment and glacial innovation,” Powell said. “The FCC’s action uses our nation’s aging utilities and crumbling infrastructure as the model for today’s internet.”

FCC Set to Vote on Restoring Net Neutrality Guidelines at April 25 Meeting

The Federal Communications Commission April 3 announced that it plans to vote at the April 25 meeting on restoring net neutrality, which would bring back a national standard for broadband reliability, security, and consumer protection.

If adopted, FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel’s proposal would ensure that broadband services are treated as an essential utility, similar to the telephone services, deserving of FCC oversight under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934. The guidelines prohibit internet providers from intentionally blocking, slowing down bandwidth speed, or charging extra fees for specific online content, among other safeguards.

The guidelines, first adopted under the Obama Administration, were later scuttled under the Trump Administration, citing regulatory overreach. Under President Biden, talk of restoring net neutrality has been rebranded as a national security issue.

“The pandemic proved once and for all that broadband is essential,” Rosenworcel said in a statement. “After the prior administration abdicated authority over broadband services, the FCC has been handcuffed from acting to fully secure broadband networks, protect consumer data, and ensure the internet remains fast, open, and fair.”

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Rosenworcel said that without broadband oversight, the FCC is unable
to fully monitor and respond to such national security concerns, including its authority to direct foreign-owned companies deemed to be national security threats to discontinue any domestic or international broadband services — as the agency has done with telephone services.

“A return to the FCC’s court-approved standard of net neutrality would allow the agency to serve as a strong consumer advocate of an open internet,” she said.

But to Evan Swarztrauber, a policy advisor to former FCC Chairman Ajit Pai during the Trump Administration, restoring net neutrality would increase  compliance costs for ISPs, and drive up the price of deploying networks.

“This would exacerbate the problems posed by the FCC’s ‘digital equity’ rules, and the NTIA imposing illegal price controls through the BEAD program,” Swarztrauber said in a statement.

Swarztrauber, a Senior Fellow at the conservative Foundation for American Innovation, said FCC concerns about national security are “cynical attempts” to justify government regulation, a political misstep he says should cause concern among “vulnerable” Senate Democrats in rural states in an election year touting broadband initiatives that could be stymied by new regulations.

“The unfortunate reality is that the FCC has already wasted precious resources on a partisan re-litigation of a tiresome debate that could, and should, be resolved by Congress,” Swarztrauber said. “The agency will never be able to regain the staff time spent on this issue that could have gone to worthy initiatives. And if the Supreme Court strikes down Title II under the major questions doctrine, then even the partisan goals of this regulatory effort will have been sought in vain.”

Jonathan Spalter, CEO of USTelecom, a broadband trade group, said restoring net neutrality would undermine ongoing efforts on the “Internet for All” initiative laid out by Biden.

“It’s been two years since the White House asked Congress and the country to be all in on Internet for All,” Spalter said. “But just as this goal is now within reach, the FCC is pumping the brakes with this entirely counterproductive, unnecessary, and anti-consumer regulatory distraction. America deserves better.”

AT&T CEO: There’s an ‘Apathetic Tone’ on Revisiting Net Neutrality Legislation

John Stankey, CES of major internet service provider AT&T, thinks revisiting net neutrality is a waste of time.

Speaking Dec. 5 at the UBS Global Media & Communications Conference in New York, he referred to the Federal Communications Commission’s decision to revisit restoring open internet protections (i.e., net neutrality) for consumers and businesses — first enacted during the Bush/Obama Administrations, subsequently scuttled during the Trump Administration, and now revived during the Biden Administration.

John Stankey

“I think there’s kind of an apathetic tone on the issue right now because there isn’t an issue,” the executive said.

Net neutrality became a hot button issue during the Obama Administration when Netflix, which was transitioning away from DVD rentals to streaming video, voiced concerns about third-party ISPs, such as Verizon, Comcast and AT&T, among others, throttling data speeds due to limited bandwidths at the time.

Specifically, Netflix and other streamers worried ISP network operators could use traffic-management tools to give preferred treatment to certain data streams as well as their own streaming platforms.

Stankey said that with myriad ISPs operating in the market, consumer access to streaming sites has never been better.

“Nobody is walking around saying there was a website I couldn’t get to recently,” he said, arguing there is greater public concern about social media platforms doing something to restrict free speech. “They’re not wondering whether or not the pipe did it; it’s whether or not the person who owns the platform did it.”

The FCC, in its move to restore net neutrality, or re-classifying the internet as a telecommunications entity under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934, now argues the issue is not about internet streaming access, but, instead, national security.

The FCC says reclassification of the internet would enhance the government’s ability to respond to national security threats by subjecting ISPs to authorization requirements under Section 214 of the act. The section ensures that the U.S. market is protected against potential anti-competitive behavior by a carrier with market power in a foreign country. The FCC has used this authority to ban several China-affiliated online services from operating in the United States for national security reasons.

Stankey argues the real issues facing ISPs revolve around spectrum capacity for wireless communications.

“Pricing is going to go up because [spectrum] becomes a scarce resource,” he said, arguing that the best way to get a market to operate efficiently is for the government to expand access to wireless spectrum.

“That’s where time and energy should be spent,” Stankey said. “I think we should work on closing the digital divide.”

A Divided FCC Votes to Start Proceeding on Re-Establishing Obama-Era Net Neutrality Guidelines

The Federal Communications Commission Oct. 19, in a 3-2 vote along political lines, agreed to launch a new proceeding on restoring open internet protections for consumers and businesses —  first enacted during the Bush/Obama Administrations, and subsequently scuttled during the Trump Administration.

The federal government will seek comment on proposals to ensure broadband services have effective oversight. If the proposals are adopted after the public comment period and review of that record, the FCC would once again be permitted to regulate internet access and competition among internet service providers (ISPs) such as Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T, among others, protect broadband networks from national security threats, and address public safety needs like internet outages.

The “notice of proposed rulemaking” seeks comment on classifying fixed and mobile broadband internet service as an essential “telecommunications” service under Title II of the Communications Act. The proposal also seeks to restore clear, nationwide open internet rules that would prevent ISPs from blocking legal content, throttling speeds, and creating fast lanes that favor those who can pay for access.

“The pandemic made it crystal clear that broadband is no longer nice-to-have, it’s need-to have for everyone, everywhere,” Jessica Rosenworcel, who was named FCC Chairwoman by President Biden, said in a statement. “It is not a luxury. It is a necessity. It is essential infrastructure for modern life. No one without it has a fair shot at 21st century success. We need broadband to reach 100% of us — and we need it fast, open, and fair.”

FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr, who voted against restoring net neutrality guidelines, contends the internet did not implode after the FCC in 2017 during the Trump Administration voted (along party lines) to overturn net neutrality.

“The decision to return the internet to the same successful and bipartisan regulatory framework under which it thrived for decades, broadband speeds in the U.S. have increased, prices are down, competition has intensified, and record-breaking new broadband builds have brought millions of Americans across the digital divide,” Carr wrote in a release.

In reality, internet service costs have increased significantly, upwards of 167% in the past 10 years. A 2023 Consumer Reports report found that the median cost of high-speed internet service is $74.99 per month. About half of the households were paying between $60 and $90 per month for broadband — with pricing often driven by consumer zip codes and lack of local competition. High-speed internet cost about $28 a month in 2013.

Separately, the FCC contends that designating the internet as a telecommunications service will safeguard the nation’s broadband network against domestic and foreign security threats.

Without Title II jurisdiction, the government cannot issue national security authority to high-speed internet, or broadband. Restoring broadband as a telecommunications service would empower the FCC to use its Section 214 authority against national security threats to the nation’s broadband networks.

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No federal agency can monitor or help with broadband outages that threaten jobs, education, health, and safety without Title II authorization, according to the FCC. While the agency can address phone service outages following natural disasters and work to ensure the resiliency of those networks before disasters strike, the FCC lacks authority over broadband networks, which can leave communities across the country without recourse when the internet service fails, according to the agency.

FCC Chair Announces Plans to Restore Obama-Era Net Neutrality Rules

The Federal Communications Commission Sept. 26 announced plans to restore so-called “net neutrality” guidelines first established under the Obama Administration and aimed at regulating the nation’s high-speed internet providers, including Verizon, Comcast and AT&T, among others.

The Open Internet Order was repealed during the Trump Administration, which claimed that mandate stifled private investment because of utility-style regulation on the internet.

FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel

In a speech at the National Press Club, FCC chair Jessica Rosenworcel said she would seek to change all that and formally introduce a “Notice of Proposed Rulemaking” at the agency’s Open Meeting on Oct. 19.

“I believe the repeal of net neutrality put the FCC on the wrong side of history, the wrong side of the law, and the wrong side of the American public,” Rosenworcel said.

The rulemaking change would restore the FCC’s authority under Title II of the Communications Act to oversee broadband providers and enforce open-internet protections, including restricting internet service providers from blocking or throttling third-party streaming services, or selling faster streaming access for a premium.

“To allow a handful of monopoly-aspiring gatekeepers to control access to the internet is a direct threat to our democracy,” Michael Copps, former FCC Commissioner and special advisor to Common Cause, a liberal public advocacy organization, said in a statement.

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Rosenworcel said that Title II gives the FCC the authority to serve as a watchdog over the communications marketplace and look out for the public interest. She said the pandemic made it clear the value of broadband to the average American household.

“Broadband is essential infrastructure for modern life,” Rosenworcel said. “Access to the internet is now access to everything, and common sense tells us [that] the nation’s leading communications watchdog should have the muscle it needs to protect consumers, and make their internet access if fast, open, and fair.”

Indeed, the FCC Chair claims that after net neutrality was reversed by the Trump Administration, broadband distribution fell under the control of private companies. Rosenworcel claims that firefighters in Santa Clara, Calif., found their wireless connectivity on their command vehicle had been throttled.  She said that during the pandemic, Hope Village, a suburb of Detroit, found itself without internet access for 25 days.

“When the FCC backed away from overseeing broadband, it meant that the only mandatory outage reporting system we could have in place is focused on long distance voice outages,” Rosenworcel said. “Let me submit to you, in a modern economy, and during the pandemic, collecting only Day 25 [intel] when the voice system goes down, just doesn’t cut it.”

She said repeal of net neutrality reduced the FCC’s ability to stop foreign countries through Section 214 authority, which didn’t cover broadband.

“This is a national security loophole that needs to be addressed,”  Rosenworcel said.

FCC Seeks Greater Transparency in Monthly Consumer Pay-TV Bills, Including Streaming

The Federal Communications Commission is looking to mandate pay-TV operators provide consumers with greater insight on their monthly bills, including explaining exactly what so-called “taxes, fees or surcharges” actually mean.

Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel introduced the proposal for new customer service protections that would require cable operators and direct broadcast satellite providers to specify the “all-in” price clearly and prominently for video programming service in their promotional materials and on subscribers’ bills.

Jessica Rosenworcel (FCC photo)

Specifically, pay-TV providers would be required to state the total cost of video programming service clearly and prominently, including broadcast retransmission consent, regional sports programming, and other programming-related fees, as a prominent single line item on subscribers’ bills and in promotional materials.

The proposal aims to eliminate the misleading practice of describing these video programming costs as a tax, fee or surcharge. This updated pricing format would allow consumers to make more-informed choices, including the ability to comparison-shop among competing providers and to compare programming costs against alternative programming providers, including streaming services, according to Rosenworcel.

“Consumers deserve to know what exactly they are paying for when they sign up for a cable or broadcast satellite subscription. No one likes surprises on their bill, especially families on tight budgets,” Rosenworcel said in a statement.

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She said the proposal would make it so the advertised price for a service is the price the consumer pays when their bill arrives and isn’t “littered” with line items that resembles “junk” fees.

“Not only will this reduce cost confusion and make it easier for consumers to compare services, but this proposal will also increase competition among cable and broadcast satellite providers through improved price transparency,” Rosenworcel said.

The proposal, which could involve time for consumer input, must be approved by the FCC’s five commissioners in a majority vote.

The consumer protection effort is the latest among the FCC’s price transparency and increased competitiveness initiatives, including the forthcoming roll-out of the nation’s first Broadband Nutrition Label, which requires broadband providers to display easy-to-understand labels to allow consumers to comparison shop for broadband services.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai Departing Position on Jan. 20, 2021

As expected, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, who was appointed to the position by President Donald Trump, Nov. 30 announced he would leave his position on Jan. 20, 2021 — Inauguration Day.

While Pai touted the agency’s work implementing rollout of 5G wireless technology nationwide, he will be best remembered for orchestrating a reversal of so-called “net neutrality” guidelines supposedly aimed at leveling the playing field for over-the-top video providers across the nation’s broadband networks.

Heading into 2021, Pai was reportedly working with the Trump Administration to impose restrictions on Twitter and Facebook, which the president has repeatedly criticized as the platforms have targeted Trump by tagging his social media posts as “misinformation.”

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“It has been the honor of a lifetime to serve at the Federal Communications Commission, including as Chairman of the FCC over the past four years,” Pai said in a statement. “I am grateful to President Trump for giving me the opportunity to lead the agency in 2017, to President Obama for appointing me as a commissioner in 2012, and to Senate Majority Leader McConnell and the Senate for twice confirming me. To be the first Asian-American to chair the FCC has been a particular privilege. As I often say: only in America.”

Charter/Spectrum Wants to Charge Netflix, Others Interconnection Fees

Charter Communications, owner of Spectrum cable, has petitioned the Federal Communications Commission to allow it to charge interconnection fees (or peering) to over-the-video services such as Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, HBO Max, Disney+ and Hulu broadband.

The fees were in part the genesis behind the Obama-era Net Neutrality guidelines, which specifically prohibited Internet Service Providers from up-charging streaming video services for faster access into subscriber homes.

Charter has been prohibited from charging fees as part of an anti-trust agreement with federal regulators when it acquired Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks in 2016.

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The cable operator now claims that with online video booming and the FCC under new authority, it should be allowed to charge fees to third-party platforms delivering content on its broadband network similar to the interconnection fees charged by Comcast, Verizon and AT&T. Charter also wants the FCC to do away with its ability to impose data caps on subscribers.

“The online video marketplace has become extremely competitive,” Charter said in the June 17 petition. “Online video distributors have seen record-shattering growth and increased strength across all performance indicators, including number of subscribers, amount of content available, number of platforms, streaming hours, and revenue. In fact, the online video distribution marketplace is almost unrecognizable compared to what existed in 2016.”

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Charter contends that to ensure efficient allocation of its resources to accommodate the “explosive growth” in broadband usage, many Internet providers have incorporated data caps. It claims data caps imposed by companies such as Comcast, AT&T, Cox and Altice8 has not stifled the growth of SVOD services.

“In fact, the opposite is true: OVD services are thriving and growing at an unprecedented rate. In other words, the market is working,” Charter wrote.

FCC: Americans Lacking Broadband Access Declines

The number of people lacking access to fixed high-speed Internet access has declined more than 30%, according to new data from the Federal Communications Commission.

This comes as welcome news to Americans living in rural parts of the country looking to stream Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Disney+ and Redbox TV, among other over-the-top video services.

Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 requires that the FCC determine annually whether advanced telecommunications capability, i.e. broadband access for streaming video, music, data, is being deployed to all Americans “in a reasonable and timely fashion.”

The FCC’s “Broadband Deployment Report” found that for the third consecutive year advanced telecommunications capability is being deployed on a reasonable and timely basis.

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The report found the number of Americans lacking access to fixed terrestrial broadband service at 25/3 Mbps continues to decline, going down by more than 14% in 2018 and more than 30% over the course of 2017 and 2018. The number of Americans without access to 4G Long Term Evolution (LTE) mobile broadband with a median speed of 10/3 Mbps based on Ookla data declined approximately 54% between 2017 and 2018.

The vast majority of Americans — more than 85% — now have access to fixed terrestrial broadband service at 250/25 Mbps, a 47% increase since 2017, with the number of rural Americans having access to 250/25 Mbps fixed terrestrial broadband service more than tripling between 2016 and 2018.

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“Under my leadership, the FCC’s top priority is to close the digital divide, and I’m proud of the progress that we have made,” chairman Ajit Pai said in a statement. “In 2018 and 2019, the United States set consecutive records for new fiber deployment, with the number of homes passed by fiber increasing by 5.9 million and 6.5 million, respectively.”

Pai said growing up in rural Kansas drove home the need for access to new technology in communications and technology. Since being appointed by President Trump to chair the FCC, Pai has made deregulation a cornerstone of his tenure — including spearheading the overturn of Obama-era “net neutrality” guidelines mandating equal access to broadband networks for video services.

“I have a deep commitment to expanding broadband to all corners of the country,” he said. “That’s why we’ve taken aggressive steps to remove regulatory barriers to broadband deployment and reform our ‘Universal Service Fund’ programs.”

The gains have been fueled in part by the broadband industry’s $80 billion investment in network infrastructure in 2018, the highest annual amount in at least the last decade. In 2019 alone, fiber broadband networks became available to roughly 6.5 million additional homes, the largest one-year increase ever, with smaller providers accounting for 25% of these new fiber connections.

But despite these gains, Pai said the job isn’t done affording all Americans have access to digital “opportunity.”

“I look forward to commencing Phase I of our ‘Rural Digital Opportunity Fund’ auction in October, which will bring high-speed broadband to millions of currently unserved Americans,” he said.

FCC’s Pai Says Streaming Video Competition Negates Need for Pay-TV Rate Regulation

Ongoing proliferation of over-the-top video services has created an effective argument against continuing basic rate regulation on pay-TV operators,  says FCC Chairman Ajit Pai.

In an Oct. 3 in blog post, Pai said increased availability of subscription streaming video services has established credible competition to pay-TV; and thereby negates the need to further regulate basic cable rates.

The Commission on Oct. 25 is set to address a request by Charter Communications seeking to recognize that AT&T’s bundled streaming video packages offered in Hawaii and Massachusetts are comparable to its cable TV packages.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai

The 1992 Cable Act mandated basic rates in areas lacking effective competition in the video marketplace. Due to the evolving video landscape, rate regulation is now limited to certain parts of Hawaii and Massachusetts.

Pai would like to end that.

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“Charter is now subject to effective competition from AT&T’s streaming service,” he wrote. “Adopting this order would be a major step toward the Commission recognizing the realities of the modern video marketplace, and the increasingly important role that streaming services are playing in it.”

The move, which has been applauded by business groups, could redefine the way the government recognizes, taxes and regulates OTT video.

Federal attempts in 2015 to regulate streaming video were challenged by lawmakers eager to promote OTT investment and infrastructure in their districts.I

Indeed, Pai, who pushed the FCC to reverse its net-neutrality safeguards adopted under the Obama Administration, warned against regulating OTT video back in 2015.

“Some have proposed extending to over-the-top providers many of the rules that currently apply to cable operators and satellite providers, regulations that in many cases are over two decades old,” Pai told an industry group at the time.

“I strongly oppose this idea. Given the remarkable success of the over-the-top video industry — success driven in part by regulatory restraint — I don’t believe we should change our regulatory approach,” he said.