F.C.C. Votes to Restore Net Neutrality Rules

Technology|F.C.C. Votes to Restore Net Neutrality Rules


Commissioners voted along party lines to revive the rules that declare broadband as a utility-like service that could be regulated like phones and water.

Jessica Rosenworcel standing at a lectern, near a sign in the foreground that says The White House, Washington.
Jessica Rosenworcel, chairwoman of the Federal Communications Commission.Credit…Pool photo by Oliver Contreras

Cecilia Kang

By Cecilia Kang

Cecilia Kang has reported on net neutrality since it was first introduced during the Obama administration.

The Federal Communications Commission voted on Thursday to restore regulations that expand government oversight of broadband providers and aim to protect consumer access to the internet, a move that will reignite a long-running battle over the open internet.

Known as net neutrality, the regulations were first put in place nearly a decade ago under the Obama administration and are aimed at preventing internet service providers like Verizon or Comcast from blocking or degrading the delivery of services from competitors like Netflix and YouTube. The rules were repealed under President Donald J. Trump, and have proved to be a contentious partisan issue over the years while pitting tech giants against broadband providers.

In a 3-to-2 vote along party lines, the five-member commission appointed by President Biden revived the rules that declare broadband a utility-like service regulated like phones and water. The rules also give the F.C.C. the ability to demand broadband providers report and respond to outages, as well as expand the agency’s oversight of the providers’ security issues.

Jessica Rosenworcel, the chairwoman of the F.C.C. and a Democrat, said the rules reflected the importance of high-speed internet as the main mode of communications for many Americans.

“Every consumer deserves internet access that is fast, open and fair,” Ms. Rosenworcel said. “This is common sense.”

Broadband providers are expected to sue to try to overturn the reinstated rules.

“This is a nonissue for broadband consumers, who have enjoyed an open internet for decades,” said Jonathan Spalter, the president of a broadband lobbying group, USTelecom. The organization said it would “pursue all available options, including in the courts.”

In a letter sent to Ms. Rosenworcel this week, dozens of leading Republican lawmakers warned that regulating broadband providers like a utility would harm the growth of the telecommunications industry.

The core purpose of the regulations is to prevent internet service providers from controlling the quality of consumers’ experience when they visit websites and use services online. When the rules were established, Google, Netflix and other online services warned that broadband providers had the incentive to slow down or block access to their services. Consumer and free speech groups supported this view.

There have been few examples of blocking or slowing of sites, which proponents of net neutrality say is largely because of fear that the companies would invite scrutiny if they did so. And opponents say the rules could lead to more and unnecessary government oversight of the industry.

“The internet in America has thrived in the absence of 1930s command-and-control regulation by the government,” said Brendan Carr, a Republican commissioner.

A decade ago, the potential new regulations prompted raucous demonstrations. At the time, telecom companies were losing business to online streaming services. Sites like Facebook, Google and Amazon feared they would be forced to pay telecom companies for better delivery of their services.

During the Trump administration, the F.C.C. rolled back net neutrality. Republican lawmakers and F.C.C. commissioners have balked that the rules were unnecessary and government overreach.

Democrats have argued they are critical to consumer protection. In the vacuum of federal regulations, several states including California and Washington created their own net neutrality laws.

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William Murphy

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