Net Neutrality: Here We Go Again

NRB | October 20, 2023 | Advocacy

In its Oct. 19 Open Commission meeting, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted to launch a rulemaking that aims to reclassify broadband as a Title II utility service, potentially reinstating the net neutrality framework repealed under the last administration.

The 3-2 vote opens a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM), which will open a commenting period on the proposal once it is published in the Federal Register. The FCC must then review comments, craft a final rule, and bring the measure to a final vote, expected next year. 

FCC Chairwoman Rosenworcel announced her intent to advance the net neutrality action immediately following the confirmation of Commissioner Anna Gomez, whose appointment marked the end of a 2-2 partisan deadlock in the Commission. The resurrection of net neutrality rules has long been viewed as inevitable upon confirmation of a fifth commissioner, stalled only by the Biden administration’s delay in identifying an acceptable nominee for the open seat. 

Nevertheless, Republican regulators and lawmakers strenuously opposed the move. 

“Here we go again,” Commissioner Brendan Carr wrote in a statement issued before the meeting. “The FCC will begin implementing President Biden’s plan for increasing government control of the Internet. It will do so by proposing to classify broadband as a utility service under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934. There will be lots of talk about ‘net neutrality’ and virtually none about the core issue before the agency: namely, whether the FCC should claim for itself the freewheeling power to micromanage nearly every aspect of how the Internet functions—from the services that consumers can access to the prices that can be charged.”

Carr added, “Utility-style regulation of the Internet was never about improving your online experience—that was just the sheep’s clothing. It was always about government control.” Carr also issued a dissenting statement after the vote, reviewing alarmist predictions of the “end of the internet” that turned out to be utterly false when the Commission considered net neutrality in 2017.

“Make no mistake: any FCC decision to impose Title II on the Internet will be overturned by the courts, by Congress, or by a future FCC,” Carr wrote. 

In a separate dissenting statement, Commissioner Nathan Simington wrote, “The Notice we approved today proposes rules that are unnecessary, dangerously overbroad, and unlikely to survive judicial review. They are unlikely to serve the public interest. If implemented, they would ban or cripple services and products that Americans want.”

Simington continued, 

Everything that ‘internet freedom’ and ‘network neutrality’ meant in the early days of the Internet has just become normal today, without the FCC having to enforce it. You can freely access legal content, browse sites of your choice, connect any device through any protocol you want, and run any application you want without your ISP forcing you to use slow routing. All those things happened through normal marketplace operations and consumer expectations. We are now faced with advocates who can’t accept that we have de facto net neutrality; no wonder the rationales keep changing.

House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), Communications and Technology subcommittee Chair Bob Latta (R-Ohio), and all Republican E&C members penned a joint letter to Rosenworcel expressing disappointment and opposition before the vote, stating, “Not only is this bad public policy, but it is also unlawful. Reclassification and the associated heavy-handed regulations that accompany this action continues to be a solution in search of a problem.” McMorris Rodgers and Latta also issued a statement rebuking Rosenworcel and Democratic commissioners after the vote. 

Numerous industry groups and analysts have critiqued the Biden administration’s directive and Rosenworcel’s subsequent efforts. NCTA – The Internet & Television Association chief Michael Powell accused the FCC of trying to solve a “fabricated” problem and called Rosenworcel’s move a “shocking mistake.” A pair of Obama-era solicitors general penned a report advising that the FCC lacked the authority to reinstate the rules. 

NRB opposes the reclassification of internet service providers (ISP) as Title II common carriers and the accompanying heavy-handed regulatory scheme, which constitutes a drastic and excessive expansion of federal regulatory reach while failing to address real threats of viewpoint discrimination by edge providers. As the push for the next chapter of net neutrality continues in Washington, NRB remains a strong voice for the accessibility of Christian content on the internet—unfettered by government overreach or corporate viewpoint discrimination.  

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