The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has recently voted in favor of restoring the principle of net neutrality, emphasizing that high-speed internet should be considered a fundamental telecommunications service. This latest development represents the ever-evolving stance of the US government on net neutrality, which sees the internet as a platform where all content should be treated equally.
The decision was passed with a 3-to-2 vote, led by the Democrats. However, the rule will require an additional vote to become official. Once in place, the FCC would regain the authority to monitor and regulate broadband providers, ensuring that they do not unfairly block, reduce speed, or prioritize internet traffic based on financial incentives.
The topic of net neutrality has been a contentious issue, with differing views often influenced by the political landscape. During the Trump administration, efforts to maintain net neutrality were scaled back. Now, under President Joe Biden’s leadership, there’s a renewed focus on bringing back these regulations.
Jessica Rosenworcel, the FCC Chairwoman, expressed her strong support for the restoration of net neutrality. According to her, the 2017 decision to dismantle these rules placed the FCC on the wrong side of the public’s interest. With this recent vote, Rosenworcel believes they are taking steps to rectify this misjudgment. The proposed changes would prohibit broadband providers from limiting or slowing down internet service and restrict the creation of “fast lanes” for preferred traffic, such as businesses willing to pay for expedited service.
However, not everyone supports this move. Some believe that the current broadband market is functioning efficiently and that the proposed regulations represent a concerning extension of governmental power. Brendan Carr, the FCC’s leading Republican member, pointed out the improvements in broadband speed, reduced costs, and enhanced competition as evidence that there’s no need for additional regulation.
Industry giants also weighed in on the decision. AT&T’s CEO, John Stankey, labeled the rules as a divisive political matter, arguing that network performance remained stable during the pandemic, showing little cause for customer complaints. Jonathan Spalter, the president of USTelecom, described the decision as a regulatory overreach that could impede universal connectivity efforts.
Trade groups, including CTIA, which has prominent members like AT&T and Verizon, criticized the FCC’s approach. They believe that the regulations could undermine the wireless industry’s objectives of keeping the internet open, secure, and resilient. Conversely, some advocate that the pandemic underscored the necessity of internet access, likening it to essential utilities. Chris Lewis, from the policy group Public Knowledge, stressed the significance of broadband and highlighted the dangers of allowing providers to operate unchecked, especially when they hold substantial market power in local communities.
Additionally, the Computer & Communications Industry Association, with members like Google and Facebook’s parent company, Meta Platforms, found the FCC’s move promising. They believe that preventing broadband providers from manipulating subscriber traffic can ensure an inclusive and robust digital economy in the US.
In the broader context of this debate, Rosenworcel has also highlighted the proposed rule’s facets that go beyond just internet equality. She believes that the FCC needs expanded authority to develop new cybersecurity standards and restrict access to networks from foreign companies that could pose national security threats. The FCC’s recent action is seen as a step in that direction, reflecting a holistic approach to internet regulation and national safety.