FCC schedules contentious net neutrality vote

The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is pushing on with plans to restore net neutrality, much to the chagrin of one of its Republican commissioners.

Nick Wood

April 4, 2024

3 Min Read

The watchdog has scheduled a vote for 25 April that, if it passes, will once again reclassify broadband providers as essential utilities subject to regulation under Title II of the Communications Act.

This would give the FCC the power to prevent broadband providers from blocking or slowing down access to legal online services, or offering paid prioritisation. Title II could also beef up the FCC's power to address outages, tackle potential national security threats, and protect consumer data.

It will also once again highlight the bitter political divisions among the FCC's commissioners.

"I oppose President Biden's plan. The American people want more freedom on the Internet – not freewheeling micromanagement by government bureaucrats," said Republican commissioner Brendan Carr.

Laying the blame squarely at President Biden's feet – this is an election year, after all – Carr claims reinstating Title II will lead to higher prices on the somewhat spurious grounds that "monopoly regulations invariably lead to monopoly prices," and that it will increase costs for network builders, thereby stifling rollouts.

Carr also argues that net neutrality will extend new protections to big tech companies like Amazon, Apple, and Google at a time when they themselves require regulating for their "discriminatory pattern of gatekeeper conduct."

He also cited two unnamed appellate lawyers who warned that attempting to impost Title II will be struck down by the courts anyway, and so pushing ahead with net neutrality would be a waste of time and money.

"Focusing on advancing the many important policies over which the Commission does have authority – from rural broadband and spectrum to public safety and illegal robocalls – serves the public interest far more than satiating the Biden Administration's appetite for more control," Carr said.

It's not clear what Carr hopes to achieve by excoriating FCC chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel's plan.

The Democrats have a 3-2 majority at the FCC, so a vote along party lines is ultimately a vote for restoring net neutrality. If Carr has no intention of trying to reach across the aisle – and singling out Biden makes it pretty clear that he hasn't – then essentially all he is doing is shouting into a void.

As for Rosenworcel, she sees net neutrality regulation – officially called the Open Internet Order – as absolutely one of the FCC's responsibilities.

They were first adopted in 2015 following an acrimonious battle that pitted the then Democrat-led FCC against the telecoms industry – which went to court to try and have them blocked.

In 2018, one of the first acts of Trump-appointed FCC chairman Ajit Pai was to repeal the Open Internet Order via the Restoring Internet Freedom Act. Pai said net neutrality deterred investment, and that it should be up to individual states to choose how they regulate broadband.

Now, with a Democrat majority one again in place at the FCC, the pendulum has swung back the other way.

"After the prior administration abdicated authority over broadband services, the FCC has been handcuffed from acting to fully secure broadband networks, protect consumer data, and ensure the Internet remains fast, open, and fair," Rosenworcel said. "A return to the FCC's overwhelmingly popular and court-approved standard of net neutrality will allow the agency to serve once again as a strong consumer advocate of an open Internet."

Given how entrenched and intransigent both sides are when it comes to this particular subject, it is highly unlikely the vote on April 25 will settle the matter.

About the Author(s)

Nick Wood

Nick is a freelancer who has covered the global telecoms industry for more than 15 years. Areas of expertise include operator strategies; M&As; and emerging technologies, among others. As a freelancer, Nick has contributed news and features for many well-known industry publications. Before that, he wrote daily news and regular features as deputy editor of Total Telecom. He has a first-class honours degree in journalism from the University of Westminster.

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