FCC restores net neutrality rules that ban blocking and throttling in 3-2 vote

FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel speaks outside in front of a sign that says
Enlarge / Federal Communication Commission Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel, then a commissioner, rallies against repeal of net neutrality rules in December 2017.

Getty Images | Chip Somodevilla

The Federal Communications Commission voted 3–2 to impose net neutrality rules today, restoring the common-carrier regulatory framework enforced during the Obama era and then abandoned while Trump was president.

The rules prohibit Internet service providers from blocking and throttling lawful content and ban paid prioritization. Cable and telecom companies plan to fight the rules in court, but they lost a similar battle during the Obama era when judges upheld the FCC’s ability to regulate ISPs as common carriers under Title II of the Communications Act.

“Consumers have made clear to us they do not want their broadband provider cutting sweetheart deals, with fast lanes for some services and slow lanes for others,” FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said at today’s meeting. “They do not want their providers engaging in blocking, throttling, and paid prioritization. And if they have problems, they expect the nation’s expert authority on communications to be able to respond. Because we put national net neutrality rules back on the books, we fix that today.”

ISPs insist the rules aren’t necessary because they already follow net neutrality principles yet also claim the rules are so burdensome that they will be prevented from investing more in their networks. Lobby group USTelecom today said the “relentless regulation” comes at the cost of “failing to achieve Internet for all.”

“This is a nonissue for broadband consumers, who have enjoyed an open Internet for decades,” USTelecom CEO Jonathan Spalter said. Rather than pushing this harmful regulatory land grab, policymakers should keep their eyes on the real-world prize of building opportunity for everyone in a hyperconnected world.

NCTA: Net neutrality is “net fatality”

Cable lobby group NCTA-The Internet & Television Association claimed that “the FCC’s marketplace intrusion comes at the worst possible time for our massive national effort to finally close the digital divide—just as billions in federal funding are dedicated to extending internet access to America’s unserved communities.”

That is a reference to a $42 billion program that is paying ISPs to deploy networks in unserved and underserved areas. “Instead of clearing obstacles to speed broadband deployment where it is most needed, this ill-timed and unlawful order threatens to hinder progress,” NCTA CEO Michael Powell said. “This will not deliver net neutrality; it will risk a net fatality.”

The court battle against the FCC will center on whether the commission can define broadband as a telecommunications service, a necessary step for imposing Title II common-carrier regulations. ISPs hope that the Supreme Court’s evolving approach to “major questions” will prevent the FCC from defining broadband as telecommunications without explicit instructions from Congress.

FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks, a Democrat, said that “major questions review is reserved for only ‘extraordinary cases’—and this one doesn’t come close. There’s no ‘unheralded power’ that we’re purporting to discover in the annals of an old, dusty statute—we’ve been classifying communications services one way or the other for decades, and the 1996 [Telecommunications] Act expressly codified our ability to continue that practice.”

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