One expert called the move "a no-brainer to the millions of Americans who want the FCC to work to ensure that all of us are connected to quality, affordable, open, and secure broadband networks."
Open internet advocates applauded on Thursday as Democrats on the Federal Communication Commission voted to begin reestablishing FCC oversight of broadband and reviving net neutrality rules rolled back under former President Donald Trump.
"Today's vote is an important start to restoring internet freedom and openness," said Public Knowledge president and CEO Chris Lewis. "Over the next few months, the FCC and the public at large will have an opportunity to look carefully at the benefits of having broadband included in the communications networks that fall under FCC authority."
FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel announced her plan to ensure broadband is treated as a public utility last month. Commissioners Anna Gomez and Geoffrey Starks on Thursday joined her in voting for the related notice of proposed rulemaking, which was opposed by Commissioners Brendan Carr and Nathan Simington.
"The notice of proposed rulemaking adopted today seeks comment on classifying fixed and mobile broadband internet service as an essential 'telecommunications' service under Title II of the Communications Act," the FCC explained. "The proposal also seeks to restore clear, nationwide open internet rules that would prevent internet service providers [ISPs] from blocking legal content, throttling speeds, and creating fast lanes that favor those who can pay for access."
Lewis asserted that "this commonsense classification is a no-brainer to the millions of Americans who want the FCC to work to ensure that all of us are connected to quality, affordable, open, and secure broadband networks."
The FCC previously voted in favor of net neutrality rules in 2015, under former President Barack Obama. Those regulations were rolled back in 2017, when the FCC was led by Ajit Pai—a former telecom industry lawyer and an appointee of Trump, the GOP's 2024 presidential front-runner.
In 2021, President Joe Biden signed an executive order encouraging the FCC to restore net neutrality rules. However, such efforts were stalled by a divided commission—until the U.S. Senate finally confirmed Gomez to a long-vacant seat early last month.
"When Trump's FCC Chair Ajit Pai led the repeal of net neutrality and rolled back Title II classification for broadband access, it was a huge win for the telecom industry and its executives," Demand Progress communications director Maria Langholz said Thursday. "We applaud the FCC for not giving up this fight in the face of the seemingly endless effort by corporate giants and their lobbyists to block commonsense and broadly popular open internet protections."
"By restoring Title II oversight, the FCC can prevent net neutrality violations at the hands of powerful ISPs, as well as expand affordable broadband access and stop dangerous privacy abuses," she continued. "Given the widespread public support for these reforms, it's vital the FCC continue to move decisively toward reinstating strong Title II protections, and that members of Congress stand with their constituents by publicly supporting this effort."
Free Press co-CEO Jessica J. González similarly stressed that "Pai ignored the overwhelming public consensus" with the rollback and "people across the country are demanding these open internet safeguards, which will allow the FCC to ensure that everyone in the United States—no matter their location, political persuasion, race or income—has affordable, reliable, and safe internet connections free from discrimination, blocking, or other ISP manipulation."
"In a last-ditch attempt to win over public opinion, these companies are bankrolling a disinformation campaign designed to paint the agency's popular Obama-era rules as bad for business and the American way," she noted. "But no amount of lies from the broadband industry and their congressional allies will change the fact that we need a watchdog protecting internet users' interests and defending their right to an open and affordable internet."
"Broadband providers and their spin doctors are deeply out of touch with people across the country who are fed up with high prices and poor customer service," González argued. "We need a referee on the field to call fouls and issue penalties when broadband companies are being unfair."
Lewis emphasized that "now is the time for the public to take action," and pledged that Public Knowledge will be "filing detailed comments in the record on behalf of the public interest in the coming months."
"Many commenters have focused only on net neutrality protections, however, there are many important protections that Title II authority brings on behalf of the public, from network reliability, outage, and public safety standards, to looking at the important values of universal service, privacy, and competition and fair pricing," he said. "We are already creating resources for those who are unfamiliar with the many benefits of placing broadband under FCC authority."
"We encourage all members of the public to make their voice heard at the FCC and in Congress where legislators are watching closely," he added. "Your senators and representatives need to know that you support FCC authority over broadband to protect open, secure, and affordable broadband access."