Five years after it was declared dead, net neutrality is back.
The FCC, in mid-October, voted to advance a proposal that would restore the rules around an open internet, an action that’s certain to ignite a fight in Congress and in corporate America.
The move comes six years after the Trump administration reversed a 2015 directive that prohibited internet service providers from blocking or slowing traffic to sites, as well as stopped them from offering online “fast lanes.”
The issue is now open for public comments and a final vote from the FCC is expected in early 2024.
President Biden has long been a proponent of restoring net neutrality, advocating for it since he took office. So what took so long? Politics, as you might have guessed.
The FCC panel has been split 2-2 between Democrats and Republicans since the beginning of the Biden administration, following the resignation of former chair Ajit Pai. Anna Gomez, a Democrat, was sworn in as a commissioner in September and Jessica Rosenworcel became commissioner. Her first act was to announce plans to reinstate the policies.
Net neutrality originally became the law in 2015, when the FCC adopted rules classifying ISPs as Title II under the Communications Act of 1934. That, effectively, meant providers were not allowed to use their power to discriminate against platforms, including blocking content or throttling speeds to competing sites.
While popular with consumers, many ISPs bristled against the rule. And in 2017, Pai reversed the policies, over the objections of many large tech companies, including Google and Meta. That led some states to enact their own net neutrality laws.
Since net neutrality on the federal level went away, though, the doomsday scenarios some proponents warned of, such as slow speeds to competing ISPs or popular sites which might not necessarily be part of polite society, have failed to appear. The Internet has worked…well, about the same as it always has. That has caused some groups to question if the law is still necessary, as the market seems to take care of itself.
The Present and the Future
The public comment period is expected to be a robust one, much like the time when net neutrality was being repealed. Advocates will give full-throated support to the policy, while opponents will be just as vigorous in expressing their thoughts.
Two former Obama Administration Solicitors General have suggested the Supreme Court would strike down attempts to reclassify broadband internet service to enforce net neutrality. And FCC commissioner Brendan Carr, a Trump appointee, has expressed concerns.
“As a former General Counsel of the FCC myself, I would encourage my Commission colleagues to heed the judicious guidance offered by these top lawyers from the Obama Administration,” said Carr in a statement. “Heading down the path to Title II would not only push vital FCC matters onto the back burner, it would knock many of them off the stove altogether”
Regardless of any looming political or legal battles, net neutrality’s return won’t be a fast process. Legal battles are certain should the FCC move forward with its plans. And if Trump retakes the White House in 2024, the current efforts could be moot.
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