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Net Neutrality

Federal Communications Commission Aims to Bring Back Neutrality

Shihaam Isaacs
Shihaam Isaacs Technology

The FCC (Federal Communications Commission) is currently taking steps at restoring its net neutrality rules and points out that broadband is essential infrastructure. Here is everything you need to know about net neutrality and the proposal brought forward by FCC Chairwoman Jessia Rosenworcel to bring back the FCC's control and supervision over broadband. 

The move proposed on Tuesday, September 26, 2023, would see the FCC regulating broadband providers, including Comcast, AT&T, and Verizon. These new changes are needed to safeguard internet access and ensure that it remains open, fair, and fast. 

The global pandemic pointed out to everyone just how important broadband is. Instead of seeing it as a luxury, it should be classed as an obvious necessity for everyone in our society, no matter where they are based. While speaking at a press conference, the FCC Chairwoman highlighted just how important the broadband infrastructure is for everyday life and society to function normally. People who do not have access to it do not stand a fair chance at success in the modern world. 

The rules proposed by Rosenworcel are not unlike the ones embraced by the commission just eight years ago, and under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934, would reestablish the FCC's authority to regulate broadband. When the new rules are introduced, broadband will have the same status as power or water. 

It would prevent the companies that provide broadband from throttling, blocking, and paid prioritization. It would include a general rule to remove broadband providers' ability to unreasonably restrict consumers from accessing the internet and visiting any site they want. 

The proposed rules were released in the form of a fact sheet devised by the Federal Communications Commission, and aim to release the full text on Thursday, September 28. A vote by the FCC is scheduled for October on whether to bring forward a draft of the rules by asking for feedback and comments on the proposal, but this process is likely to take a few months. You can learn more about broadband and whether your service provider limits your internet speeds by visiting the official CNET website's best high-speed internet provider's page. 

Net neutrality explained

Essentially, the term net neutrality refers to the notion that all internet traffic, whether that's playing your favorite online games, watching your favorite television shows, buying your weekly groceries, or simply sending an email, should be treated equally. It also means broadband providers cannot neglect competitors' services in favor of their content. 

The constant battle over net neutrality boils down to figuring out who, if anyone, should be put in the position of regulating the internet and ensuring that the companies that provide broadband don't take advantage of their position in any way. 

Why do the net neutrality rules have to be reestablished?

Net neutrality rules and regulations have had a bumpy ride over the past ten years, being authorized and then revoked depending on which political power is in office at the time. 

The Obama-era regulation also viewed broadband as a public utility, and in 2015, the Federal Communications Commission was given oversight and adopted net neutrality rules that saw broadband as coming under the Title II service under the Communications Act of 1934. 

However, just two years later, the FCC, then led by the Republican party, repealed the decision on net neutrality rules. The regulations were described at the time by Ajit Pai, then chairman, as being 'heavy-handed' were the exact words. Since then, lawmakers for the democratic party have had several unsuccessful attempts to bring back net neutrality rules. 

On Monday, September 25, and after being confirmed in early September by the Senate, a new FCC commissioner, democrat Anna Gomez, was sworn in. It ended a 2-2 stalemate within the commission, which inevitably paved the way for the latest effort to bring back net neutrality rules and regulations. 

Why are their arguments against net neutrality?

The people who stand behind net neutrality highlight that regulations and rules are fundamental to ensure the internet remains open, fair, and fast without bias or discrimination. It also says they are necessary to ensure companies that provide our broadband cannot, in any way, abuse their power over the current system that delivers content via the internet to the devices we use to connect to the internet. 

The lawmakers and broadband providers that have openly opposed net neutrality rules stated that the power the 2015 ruling gave to the FCC was too great, even to the extent that it negatively impacted investment. They also stated that broadband providers have been flagrantly breaking the rules set out by the FCC on many occasions.    

Verizon failed to respond, and both Comcast and AT&T declined to comment on the possibility of the FCC reinstating net neutrality rules. However, trade groups representing both the wireless and broadband industries shot down FCC proposals, pointing out that broadband providers are already engaging in open internet practices.  

One of the things the President of the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association (CITA), Meredith Baker, pointed out was that each year, wireless providers have reduced prices for consumers, given them better selection for mobile and home broadband, increased internet speeds, and made networks more reliable. 

She puts a lot of this down to the legal framework that's currently in place. The existing system, she said, drives economic growth, creates new employment, spurs innovation, and fosters investment. Instead of bringing in regulatory uncertainty caused by the announcement earlier this week by the FCC, Baker has urged Congress to implement a more permanent set of rules to conserve a framework that's positive for the consumer while, at the same time, enabling wireless service providers to continue to thrive and foster new stages of 5G investment and innovation. 

A similar statement was also released by US Telecom's President, Jonathon Spalter. He noted that it is a potentially costly and dangerous solution that will need addressing if broadband is treated as a Title II utility. 

When are the new rules expected to come into effect?

It's not likely to happen any time soon. A vote carried out by the FCC is expected to happen on Thursday, October 19, and it will decide whether to bring forward the draft rules. All it needs is just three votes to start the ball rolling and execute the rulemaking process. It also includes a prolonged period of comments and replies that could carry on well into the beginning of next year. 

After this initial process has ended, it could be several more months until a final set of rules is decided upon. Even if the vote goes in favor of the FCC bringing back net neutrality regulations, any new rules that come into effect may face lawsuits, which would delay the process even further, meaning net neutrality regulations could be a very long way from being fully reinstated.