FCC continues to wrestle with net neutrality


Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chairperson Jessica Rosenworcel (pictured) is set to reopen the ‘open internet’ debate later this week

Earlier this month, Democrat Anna Gomez was finally confirmed as the new FCC Commissioner, ending the deadlock over the agency’s vacant fifth seat that had been immovable for the last two years.

Upon taking office in November 2021, President Joe Biden had quickly indicated his preferred candidate to fill the vacant fifth seat on the FCC as lawyer Gigi Sohn. However, Sohn quickly found herself facing fierce opposition from Republicans within the Senate, with some arguing she “lacked the impartiality to sit on the FCC”.

Now, with the seemingly less objectionable Gomez confirmed to be taking on the position on the FCC, the Democrats once again have a three-to-two majority within the agency, potentially opening the door for a number of reforms.

One such topic that appears likely to be up for debate once again is the matter of net neutrality, with FCC chairperson Jessica Rosenworcel set to release a full proposal on the matter for public comment tomorrow. After a three-week period, the proposal will then be brought to a vote within the FCC itself, which, if successful, would begin the lengthy process of drafting new regulatory rules.

These draft rules would then face further public scrutiny, as well as a final vote by the FCC, before being signed into law.

Net neutrality is the principle that all internet traffic should be treated equally by the internet service provider regardless of content. The concept was a key feature of the Obama administration but was overturned under the Trump government in 2018.

The proposal itself reportedly seeks to reclassify broadband services under Title II of the Telecommunication Act, designating them as a utility and therefore bringing them under the FCC’s regulatory control, just like existing telephony services. This would give the FCC the power it needs to regulate service providers effectively and enforce net neutrality.

However, Rosenworcel says the FCC will also use a “light touch” approach similar to that introduced in 2015, which would make broadband providers exempt from around 700 regulations typically enforced on companies subject to Title II of the Telecommunication Act. These measures, it is hoped, will make the net neutrality proposition more palatable for the concept’s detractors.

“In the wake of the pandemic and the generational investment in internet access, we have a window to update our policies to make sure that the internet is not only open, but fast and fair, safe and secure,” she said. “Now is the time for our rules of the road for internet service providers to reflect the reality that internet access is a necessity for daily life.”

None the less, the proposition is still likely to face significant lobbying from the US broadband industry, which lobbied hard in 2017 and 2018 to see net neutrality rules repealed.

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