FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel

Federal Communications Commission Chair Jessica Rosenworcel attends an event at the Paley Museum in New York City on November 8, 2022.

(Photo: Steven Ferdman/Getty Images)

FCC Chair Confirms Plan to Reinstate Net Neutrality Rules Eviscerated Under Trump

"To allow a handful of monopoly-aspiring gatekeepers to control access to the internet is a direct threat to our democracy," said Michael Copps, a Common Cause special adviser and former FCC commissioner.

Open internet advocates across the United States celebrated on Tuesday as Federal Communications Commission Chair Jessica Rosenworcel announced her highly anticipated proposal to reestablish FCC oversight of broadband and restore net neutrality rules.

"We thank the FCC for moving swiftly to begin the process of reinstating net neutrality regulations," said ACLU senior policy counsel Jenna Leventoff. "The internet is our nation's primary marketplace of ideas—and it's critical that access to that marketplace is not controlled by the profit-seeking whims of powerful telecommunications giants."

Rosenworcel—appointed to lead the commission by President Joe Biden—discussed the history of net neutrality and her new plan to treat broadband as a public utility in a speech at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., which came on the heels of the U.S. Senate's recent confirmation of Anna Gomez to a long-vacant FCC seat.

Back in 2005, "the agency made clear that when it came to net neutrality, consumers should expect that their broadband providers would not block, throttle, or engage in paid prioritization of lawful internet traffic," she recalled. "In other words, your broadband provider had no business cutting off access to websites, slowing down internet services, and censoring online speech."

"Giant corporations and their lobbyists... will try every trick to block or delay the agency from restoring net neutrality."

After a decade of policymaking and litigation, net neutrality rules were finalized in 2015. However, a few years later—under former FCC Chair Ajit Pai, an appointee of ex-President Donald Trump—the commission caved to industry pressure and repealed them.

"The public backlash was overwhelming. People lit up our phone lines, clogged our email inboxes, and jammed our online comment system to express their disapproval," noted Rosenworcel, who was a commissioner at the time and opposed the repeal. "So today we begin a process to make this right."

The chair is proposing to reclassify broadband under Title II of the Communications Act, which "is the part of the law that gives the FCC clear authority to serve as a watchdog over the communications marketplace and look out for the public interest," she explained. "Title II took on special importance in the net neutrality debate because the courts have ruled that the FCC has clear authority to enforce open internet policies if broadband internet is classified as a Title II service."

"On issue after issue, reclassifying broadband as a Title II service would help the FCC serve the public interest more efficiently and effectively," she pointed out, detailing how it relates to public safety, national security, cybersecurity, network resilience and reliability, privacy, broadband deployment, and robotexts.

Rosenworcel intends to release the full text of the proposal on Thursday and hold a vote regarding whether to kick off rulemaking on October 19. While Brendan Carr, one of the two Republican commissioners, signaled his opposition to the Title II approach on Tuesday, Gomez's confirmation earlier this month gives Democrats a 3-2 majority at the FCC.

"Giant corporations and their lobbyists blocked President Biden from filling the final FCC seat for more than two years, and they will try every trick to block or delay the agency from restoring net neutrality now," Demand Progress communications director Maria Langholz warned Tuesday. "The commission must remain resolute and fully restore free and open internet protections to ensure broadband service providers like Comcast and Verizon treat all content equally."

"Americans' internet experience should not be at the whims of corporate executives whose primary concerns are the pockets of their stakeholders and the corporations' bottom line," she added, also applauding the chair.

Free Press co-CEO Jessica J. González similarly praised Rosenworcel and stressed that "without Title II, broadband users are left vulnerable to discrimination, content throttling, dwindling competition, extortionate and monopolistic prices, billing fraud, and other shady behavior."

"As this proceeding gets under way, we will hear all manner of lies from the lobbyists and lawyers representing big phone and cable companies," she predicted. "They'll say anything and everything to avoid being held accountable. But broadband providers and their spin doctors are deeply out of touch with people across the political spectrum, who are fed up with high prices and unreliable services. These people demand a referee on the field to call fouls and issue penalties when broadband companies are being unfair."

Like Rosenworcel, in her Tuesday speech, González also highlighted that "one thing we learned from the Covid-19 pandemic is that broadband is essential infrastructure—it enables us to access education, employment, healthcare, and more."

That "more" includes civic engagement, as leaders at Common Cause noted Tuesday. Ishan Mehta, who directs the group's Media and Democracy Program, said that "the internet has fundamentally changed how people are civically engaged and is critical to participating in society today. It is the primary communications platform, a virtual public square, and has been a powerful organizing tool, allowing social justice movements to gain momentum and widespread support."

After the Trump-era repeal, Mehta explained, "we saw broadband providers throttle popular video streaming services, degrade video quality, forcing customers to pay higher prices for improved quality, offer service plans that favor their own services over competitors, and make hollow, voluntary, and unenforceable promises not to disconnect their customers during the pandemic."

Given how broadband providers have behaved, Michael Copps, a Common Cause special adviser and former FCC commissioner, said that "to allow a handful of monopoly-aspiring gatekeepers to control access to the internet is a direct threat to our democracy."

Rosenworcel's speech came a day after U.S. Sens. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) led over two dozen of their colleagues in sending a letter calling for the restoration of net neutrality protections. The pair said in a statement Tuesday that "broadband is not a luxury. It is an essential utility and it is imperative that the FCC's authority reflects the necessary nature of the internet in Americans' lives today."

"We need net neutrality so that small businesses are not shoved into online slow lanes, so that powerful social media companies cannot stifle competition, and so that users can always freely speak their minds on social media and advocate for the issues that are most important to them," they said. "We applaud Chairwoman Rosenworcel for her leadership and look forward to working with the FCC to ensure a just broadband future for everyone."

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