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FCC Votes To Start Reinstating Net Neutrality Rules

US communications regulator votes to begin process to reinstate landmark net neutrality rules struck down under Trump

The US communications regulator, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), has voted 3-2 on a proposal to reinstate open internet rules adopted in 2015 and reestablish the commission’s authority over broadband internet. The FCC announced after the successful vote, it will “will seek comment on proposals to ensure broadband services have effective oversight.” So the FCC will take public comments onboard before it is expected to vote next year to finalise the plan which is certain to face legal challenges. It comes after the FCC in September had proposed to bring back net neutrality laws in the United States after they were overturned during the Trump administration.

Long running battle

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.

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.

The FCC’s decision in 2017 had been fiercely opposed by the US Senate, as well as by tech firms and small businesses, and many US states at the time.

Yet the roll back had been supported by some telecom providers in the US.

Tide turned

However the tide turned after the Democrats took majority control of the five-member FCC in early October 2023 for the first time since President Joe Biden took office in January 2021.

That saw democrat FCC commissioners outnumbering republican commissioners, 3 to 2.

President Biden had signed a July 2021 executive order encouraging the FCC to reinstate net neutrality rules adopted under Democratic President Barack Obama.

Open Internet

“Today, there is no expert agency ensuring that the internet is fast, open, and fair,” said FCC chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel in a statement. “And for everyone, everywhere to enjoy the full benefits of the internet age, internet access needs to be more than just accessible and affordable. The internet needs to be open.” “That is why for as long as I have served on the FCC, I have supported net neutrality,” said Rosenworcel. “But in 2017, despite overwhelming opposition, the FCC repealed net neutrality and stepped away from its Title II authority over broadband.” “Today, we begin a process to make this right,” said Rosenworcel. “We propose to reinstate enforceable, bright-line rules to prevent blocking, throttling, and paid prioritization. These rules are legally sustainable because they track those that were upheld in court in 2016 – from front to back. They would ensure that the internet remains open and a haven for creating without permission, building community beyond geography, and organizing without physical constraints.”

However Republican FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr opposed the move, and cited the alleged ‘doom mongering’ of the 2017 decision to abandon net neutrality.

Carr said that that since 2017 “broadband speeds in the US have increased, prices are down (and) competition has intensified.” He argued the plan would result in “government control of the internet.”

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