The Biden administration plans to bring back open internet rules that were implemented during the Obama administration and then repealed by the Trump administration.
In a speech Tuesday, Federal Communications Commission Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel declared that the 2017 repeal put the FCC “on the wrong side of history, the wrong side of the law, and the wrong side of the public.”
First open internet rules, known as net neutrality, prohibited broadband Internet suppliers – telecommunications and cable companies – from blocking or slowing down online services. It also banned broadband companies from charging higher prices than certain content providers for priority treatment, or “fast lanes” on the Internet.
“This afternoon,” Ms. Rosenworcel said in her speech at the National Press Club in Washington, “I am sharing with my colleagues a rule that proposes to restore net neutrality.”
Ms Rosenworcel’s move comes after the Senate confirmed Anna Gomez as the FCC’s fifth commissioner earlier this month. This gave Democrats a majority on the commission, breaking a 2-2 partisan deadlock.
The FCC chairwoman will release the full text of the proposed rule on Thursday. That’s the first step. Commissioners will vote on the draft proposal on Oct. 19. If approved, there will be a public comment and response period for a few months. The commission will likely vote on final rules next year.
The net neutrality issue has sparked waves of public interest in the past. There have been street protests, a flood of email comments and even threats of violence against commissioners who opposed earlier net neutrality rules.
This has been a technology issue that is politically charged with progressives who see the regulations as a necessary restraint on corporate power and a drive to keep the Internet open and fair.
Cable and telecommunications companies largely opposed the rule because they viewed it as a regulatory overreach. They feared that classifying broadband providers as “common carriers” like phone companies would open the door to utility-style regulation and government pricing.
So far, fears on both sides appear to be exaggerated. During the Obama years, the government did not interfere with broadband pricing. Following the repeal of net neutrality rules, broadband suppliers have generally not been found to engage in “blocking, throttling, and paid prioritization”.
But Ms Rosenworcel stressed that one lesson of the pandemic was to underline the importance of high-speed internet service and the need to protect this “essential infrastructure of modern life”.