FCC votes to reinstate net neutrality rules

The Federal Communications Commission voted Thursday to reinstate regulations that expand government control over 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 aim to prevent internet service providers like Verizon or Comcast from blocking or curtailing the service provision of competitors like Netflix and YouTube. The rules were repealed under President Donald J. Trump and have proved a contentious issue over the years, pitting tech giants against broadband providers.

In a 3-2 vote along party lines, the five-member commission appointed by President Biden revived rules declaring broadband a utility-like service, regulated like telephones and water. The rules also give the FCC the ability to require broadband providers to report and respond to outages, as well as expand the agency's oversight of provider security issues.

FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel, a Democrat, said the rules reflect the importance of high-speed Internet as the primary mode of communication for many Americans.

“Every consumer deserves Internet access that is fast, open and equitable,” Rosenworcel said. “This is common sense.”

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

“This is not a problem for broadband consumers, who have enjoyed an open internet for decades,” said Jonathan Spalter, president of broadband advocacy group USTelecom. The organization said it “will pursue all available options, including in the courts.”

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

The main purpose of the regulations is to prevent Internet service providers from controlling the quality of consumers' experience when visiting websites and using online services. When the rules were established, Google, Netflix and other online services warned that broadband providers had incentives to slow or block access to their services. Consumer and free speech groups supported this view.

There have been few examples of sites being blocked or slowed down, which net neutrality advocates say is largely due to fears that 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 the government command-and-control regulation of the 1930s,” said Brendan Carr, a Republican commissioner.

Ten years ago, potential new regulations sparked 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 to better provide their services.

During the Trump administration, the FCC reinstated net neutrality. Republican lawmakers and FCC commissioners objected that the rules were unnecessary and that the government was overreaching.

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

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