Back from the dead? Democrat controlled FCC proposes new net neutrality laws after Republican roll back in 2017
The US communications regulator, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), has proposed to bring back net neutrality laws in the United States after they were overturned during the Trump administration.
The FCC however is now controlled by Democrat commissioners, and the chairwoman is Jessica Rosenworcel, who in a speech on Tuesday to the National Press Club in Washington DC, made clear the intention to restore net neutrality rules in the US.
The issue of net neutrality has turned into a deeply political issue in the United States, after the FCC under former President Barack Obama (a Democrat), had adopted net neutrality rules back in 2015.
Long running battle
Those laws were designed to stop service providers from blocking, slowing access to or charging more for certain content.
Prior to 2015 the FCC had enforced network neutrality on a case-by-case basis through four principles the agency had approved in 2005.
But Republican Donald Trump was elected President in 2016, and with his appointment of former FCC chairman Ajit Pai, the Republican-dominated FCC in 2017 controversially voted to “roll back” Obama-era net neutrality rules for the United States.
However the roll back had been supported by some telecom providers.
The Trump administration argued that the FCC, not the US states, held exclusive authority to set net neutrality rules, and in October 2018, the US Justice Department filed an injunction to stop Californian implementing its own net neutrality law.
The Biden administration however did not continue the DoJ litigation against California.
After former FCC chairman Ajit Pai stepped down in January 2021, the Biden administration came under pressure to appoint a fifth commissioner to “ensure a fully functional Federal Communications Commission” (the FCC normally has five commissioners).
But the Republicans opposed the appointment of a new commissioner, and in July 2022 with the FCC deadlocked on the issue, two democrat US senators announced they were planning a bill to restore net neutrality regulations across the United States
But this week the Democrats took majority control of the five-member FCC on Monday for the first time since President Joe Biden took office in January 2021.
Restoring net neutrality
Now in her speech on Tuesday chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel cited the Covid-19 pandemic, which “made it crystal clear that broadband is no longer nice-to-have; it’s need-to-have for everyone, everywhere. It is not a luxury. It is a necessity.”
“Communications means a lot more than just phone calls,” she said. “It means access to the internet because broadband is the most important infrastructure of our time.”
“But as a result of the previous FCC’s decision to abdicate authority, the agency charged with overseeing communications has limited ability to oversee these indispensable networks and make sure that for every consumer internet access is fast, open, and fair,” she said. “That’s not right.”
“Because for everyone, everywhere to enjoy the full benefits of the internet age, internet access should be more than just accessible and affordable. The internet also needs to be open – and that is what I want to focus on today,” she said.
“I believe it is essential that we sustain this foundation of openness – and that is why, for as long as I have served on the FCC, I have supported net neutrality,” she said.
“I believe this (2017) repeal of net neutrality put the agency on the wrong side of history, the wrong side of the law, and the wrong side of the public,” Rosenworcel said. “It was not good then, but it makes even less sense now.”
“It determined that this infrastructure – which the pandemic proved so essential for modern life – needs no oversight,” said Rosenworcel. “I think that’s wrong. So today we begin a process to make this right. This afternoon, I am sharing with my colleagues a rulemaking that proposes to restore net neutrality.”
The FCC’s Rosenworcel is asking her colleagues to take an initial vote on 19 October on the proposal to largely reinstate open internet rules.