June 23, 2024

(Bloomberg) — The US Federal Communications Commission Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said she plans to reinstate net neutrality oversight of broadband providers that was rescinded under former president Donald Trump.

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Rosenworcel announced the effort Tuesday at the National Press Club, confirming an earlier Bloomberg report and kicking off a renewed fight over regulation. She is proposing the FCC take the first steps to commit to rules that would treat broadband internet as an essential service, putting it on par with water, power and phone service.

The proposal largely mirrors original rules adopted in 2015 under then-President Barack Obama and adds a clause on national security to close a loophole that allows foreign adversaries to access US broadband services.

“In the wake of the pandemic and the generational investment in internet access, we have a window to update our policies to make sure that the internet is not only open, but fast and fair, safe and secure,” she said. “Now is the time for our rules of the road for internet service providers to reflect the reality that internet access is a necessity for daily life.”

Rules barring broadband providers from unfairly interfering with internet traffic were gutted by the FCC under Republican leadership. President Joe Biden and the Democratic Party said in their 2020 platform that they would “recommit the United States to the principles of an open internet, including net neutrality.” Twelve states have net neutrality provisions or laws currently in effect, but the FCC policy would create a national standard.

Rosenworcel, a longtime supporter of net neutrality rules, is moving quickly after Democrats took a working majority of the five-member FCC on Monday when Anna Gomez was sworn in as a commissioner, becoming the third Democrat at the agency. The FCC had been split 2-to-2 on partisan lines from the beginning of the Biden presidency. Biden named Rosenworcel chairwoman of the FCC at the start of his term.

Read more: Understanding Net Neutrality

In 2017, the FCC voted to scrap net neutrality rules enacted two years earlier that barred firms such as cable giant Comcast Corp. and wireless carrier AT&T Inc. from blocking any specific content or singling out any offering for quicker or slower delivery. Ditching the rules was unpopular with voters, but the companies are likely to vigorously oppose any reincarnation of the regulations.

Providers haven’t engaged in the behavior that the rules aim to prevent, the companies argue, such as throttling content delivery speeds and anti-competitive paid prioritization of content. The regulations also threaten to encumber a growing and successful broadband ecosystem, they say.

Any effort to restore net neutrality rules would likely commence with an FCC vote on Oct. 19, followed by a monthslong process of notice and comments and then by another vote. Even if the FCC successfully reinstates the regulations, lawsuits may hold up the changes.

Republican FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr criticized the policy Tuesday, saying legal challenges to regulating the internet like a public utility wouldn’t pass the Supreme Court.

Senator Ed Markey, a Democrat from Massachusetts, wrote a letter to Rosenworcel Monday urging her to reclassify broadband as a telcommunications service under Title II of the Telecommunications Act, which would allow for more government oversight. “The FCC’s regulatory classifications should reflect what Americans and Congress know to be true: broadband internet access service is an indispensable part of American life,” Markey wrote in a letter signed by nearly two dozen other senators.

From the Archive: Why Trump’s FCC Tossed Obama’s Net Neutrality Rules: QuickTake

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