Net neutrality, take two? Joe Biden seeks return of Obama-era rules

Net neutrality is in the news again.

President Joe Biden wants net neutrality rules back on the books. In an executive order issued Friday, he urged the Federal Communications Commission to restore Obama-era net neutrality rules and take other measures to boost broadband competition. This includes asking the FCC to provide broadband companies with transparency on pricing.

news comes Biden rolls out his big infrastructure plan, unveiled in April, includes significant funding for new infrastructure and encourages greater competition. Initially, Biden promised $100 billion over eight years to ensure that every American has broadband access. That figure has since been reduced to $65 billion to match the Republican proposal.

Policymakers have struggled for years to resolve the digital divide, or the gap between those with and those without broadband access. But the issue has taken on a new urgency in the past year as the pandemic and the resulting lockdown have provided a clear reminder that having enough broadband is no longer a luxury.

Biden sees the lack of competition as a major problem perpetuating the White House digital divide, and the rules adopted in 2015 under President Barack Obama as a key policy objective to ensure that Big broadband companies should not abuse their power on their network. The rules were repealed in 2017 under the Republican-led FCC.

“Large providers may use their power to block or slow down online services in a discriminatory manner,” The White House fact sheet says. “The FCC of the Obama-Biden administration adopted ‘net neutrality’ rules that required these companies to treat all Internet services equally, but it was Destroyed in 2017.”

Net neutrality protection has strong public support. Millions of Americans protested former FCC chairman Ajit Pai’s order to end net neutrality.

Net neutrality supporters applauded the executive order and called on the FCC to restore net neutrality protections. But he also urged Biden to nominate a fifth FCC commissioner for the agency. Currently, the agency has two Democrats, including Acting Speaker Jessica Rosenworcel and two Republicans. But without a third Democrat in the agency, it would be impossible for the agency to implement the new net neutrality rule or any other objective set out in Biden’s executive order.

“We are grateful that President Biden is committed to promoting broadband competition and protecting the open Internet, and the steps suggested in the executive order are necessary, but a deal has not yet been reached,” said Matt Wood, vice president of policy and general counsel. he said. Consumer advocacy group Free Press. “Executive order is important, but the processes and personnel are not yet in place to really move forward on these priorities. Right now the FCC is deadlocked on two Democratic and two Republican votes; the agency needs a fifth commissioner to function fully.” Needed.”

Lobbying groups for the cable and telecommunications industries were quick to criticize the president’s executive order.

The cable industry lobbying group NCTA said, “We are disappointed that the executive order repeats misleading claims about the broadband marketplace, including tired and unproven claims that ISPs are preventing consumers from accessing the Internet content of their choice.” Will stop or strangle them.” on Friday.

USTelcom, which lobbies the telecommunications industry, argued blog post That the industry “invests approximately $80 billion annually to connect communities, upgrade infrastructure, speed up and innovate in its networks.” USTelecom President and CEO Jonathan Spelter also argued that broadband prices are falling.

Consumer advocates point out that these claims are based on a “cost-per-megabit” calculation that does not reflect the total cost of the consumer’s bill. They argue that the amount consumers pay for internet service is rising faster than inflation.

To help you better understand what net neutrality is and why it matters, Nerdshala has put together this FAQ.

What is net neutrality again?

net neutrality is theory Whether you’re checking Facebook, posting photos to Instagram, or streaming movies from Netflix or Amazon, all traffic on the Internet should be treated equally. It also means that companies like AT&T, which bought Time Warner, or Comcast, which owns NBCUniversal, cannot favor their content over competitors.

What exactly did the 2015 net neutrality rules do?

The 2015 rules, adopted under FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, a Democrat, prevented broadband providers from blocking or slowing down access to the Internet or charging for faster access.

Rules under the Communications Act of 1934 reclassified broadband as a Title II service, which firmly established the FCC’s oversight over broadband. It empowered the agency to prevent broadband abuses such as weak privacy practices or fraudulent billing. In addition, the 2015 rules, along with Title II authorization, allowed the FCC to promote competition by doing things like pre-empting state laws that prevent municipalities from offering broadband services. It also empowered the FCC to require broadband companies to be more transparent on pricing, another objective of the Biden executive order on competition.

Are there any net neutrality rules in place right now?

Broadband providers in California and Washington state have to comply with net neutrality rules due to state laws enacted in 2018. Many providers are following those practices in other states as well because it makes it easier to operate. But establishing new federal net neutrality rules would bring uniformity across states and also ensure that the FCC has the authority to enforce the rules across the country.

If the current FCC, now controlled by Democrats, were to come up with new net neutrality rules, would they be the same as those adopted in 2015?

Maybe not. Proponents of net neutrality agree that things have changed since the rules were adopted six years ago. Proponents of net neutrality say the new rules will likely go beyond the restrictions set out in the 2015 rules. In particular, this could mean banning things like zero-rating, which is the practice of bundling free access to certain content or services as part of a broadband service. An example of such a service is a promotion offered by AT&T, which exempted its streaming services from the data cap of its wireless customers.

The FCC may also reinstate Title II authority to ban or impose restrictions on broadband and wireless data caps. None of these issues were explicitly addressed in the 2015 rules. But it included a so-called “common conduct” rule that allowed the agency to crack down on companies that tried to abuse their market power.

Why should I care about net neutrality?

The fight over net neutrality is really about determining who, if any, will police the Internet to make sure broadband companies aren’t abusing their power as gatekeepers.

What are the pros and cons of net neutrality?

Proponents of net neutrality say the rules are necessary to ensure that broadband companies are not taking advantage of their power over access to broadband networks. These proponents also say that restoring the FCC’s authority over broadband companies could help make the broadband market more competitive. Millions of people are still without access to any broadband service, and many millions cannot afford the service. Net neutrality rules won’t fix these issues on their own, but proponents say reinstating the rules could help.

On the other side of the debate, broadband companies and their allies say the old rules gave the FCC too much power, affecting broadband investment. Pai, a former FCC chairman, claimed during his tenure that the repeal resulted in increased investment in broadband. But there is no clear evidence from the earnings report. independent research And even statements from the CEO of the broadband company itself show that the repeal has had any impact on investment in the broadband sector.

Will the new rules be challenged in court again?

As we’ve seen with the 2015 net neutrality rules and the 2017 repeal of those rules, it’s almost certain that any action the FCC takes to restore net neutrality protections and apply the Title II classification to broadband will be met with lawsuits.

Over the past several years, federal appeals courts have sided with the FCC twice over whether the agency can change the classification of broadband to determine whether it should be regulated. In practice this means many years of litigation and uncertainty.

What needs to be done to make net neutrality permanent?

Ultimately, the only way to pacify the issue would be for Congress to act. If Congress doesn’t act, net neutrality rules and the FCC’s authority to regulate broadband will continue to ping-pong back and forth depending on the party controlling the White House.

Democrats are already pushing for legislative action on Capitol Hill.

Ed Markey, a Democrat from Massachusetts, hailed Biden’s call to reinstate net neutrality rules.

“As soon as there are three Democratic commissioners, the FCC must act without delay to reclassify broadband as a Title II service and to reestablish its authority over broadband,” Markey said. “I also plan to introduce legislation to do this by law soon. We can’t stop working until net neutrality is the law of the land.”

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