After eight years of heated debate, net neutrality is poised to make a comeback in the US. Following a series of legal challenges, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) under the leadership of Jessica Rosenworcel is set to take an initial vote on a net neutrality proposal in October.
If approved, the proposed rules would bar internet service providers (ISPs) from blocking or slowing down access to websites and online content, while also prohibiting them from selectively speeding up service to favored websites or to those that agree to pay extra fees, reported Bloomberg.
These net neutrality rules, if successfully reinstated, could potentially set the US apart from other countries without similar regulations, particularly if the FCC successfully adopts a single, national standard. As Rosenworcel puts it: “Net neutrality rules are more necessary than ever, after millions of Americans discovered the vital importance of reliable internet access during the Covid-19 pandemic.”
The fight for net neutrality began under President Barack Obama, who in 2015 proposed rules that barred internet service providers from blocking or throttling traffic, or offering paid fast lanes, also known as paid prioritization. Under president Trump, however, the FCC voted to reverse the rules and the telecom and cable industries spent the next several years challenging them in court.
Days after Joe Biden took office, the U.S. Justice Department withdrew its Trump-era legal challenge to California’s state net neutrality law and, in July 2021, Biden signed an Executive Order encouraging the FCC to reinstate the net neutrality rules Obama proposed. With Democrats now in majority control of the five-member FCC, the process of reinstating net neutrality is now underway.
Rosenworcel has been a vocal advocate of the proposed net neutrality rules, denouncing the repeal in 2017. She stated at the time: “The FCC put itself on the wrong side of history, the wrong side of the law, and the wrong side of the American public.”
The rules, however, are not without their critics. The telecom and cable industries have long argued that telephone-style regulations are not suited for digital technologies and that they would discourage private investment in broadband networks, hindering Americans’ ability to get online.
According to Bloomberg, the goal is to restore Obama-era regulations, provide strong rules that can prevent ISPs from distorting the free flow of information on the internet, and take the necessary steps to create a single, national standard on net neutrality — one that will give businesses the certainty they need to speed up efforts to blanket the nation in fast, affordable broadband.