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The Open Internet Order was repealed during the Trump Administration, which claimed that mandate stifled private investment because of utility-style regulation on the internet.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