Yesterday, the Democratic-led Federal Communications Commission (FCC) took an important step toward reinstating net neutrality rules repealed during President Donald Trump’s tenure. By voting to start reinstating federal regulations that protect open internet access – such as those necessary during COVID-19 pandemic-induced lockdowns- they took steps towards reinstating them and are making real progress toward reinstating net neutrality rules that were previously extinguished during that administration.
Background: Net neutrality has long been a contentious topic. Under President Obama in 2015, the Federal Communications Commission began regulating broadband internet access as a public utility to prevent providers from manipulating speeds or charging exorbitant fees; Republicans opposed this move as government overreach and telecom companies like AT&T opposed it vigorously while tech giants such as Google advocated its implementation. By 2018, however, under Republican control of the FCC regulations were repealed altogether.
New Considerations: FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel is revisiting the net neutrality issue, citing how COVID-19 highlighted its significance to all. She believes that state laws enacted since federal regulations were repealed are insufficient in protecting consumers. On the other hand, GOP commissioners opposed reinstating net neutrality rules; Commissioner Brendan Carr argued that consumers and their internet connections have flourished without regulations, thus reinstating restrictions would burden telecom companies and put too much strain on consumers and connections alike.
At this juncture: The public now has an opportunity to provide comments regarding a potential revival of net neutrality. If approved by the FCC, regulations passed would give them authority to monitor internet outages and intervene if broadband providers charge excessive fees.
The return of the net neutrality debate highlights power struggles within the telecom and tech industries. While advocates for net neutrality advocate for equal and open internet access, their opponents contend regulations stifle innovation and burden businesses. As the FCC starts the process of reinstating regulations, it will be interesting to observe how public opinion and industry lobbying influence its outcome, which could have profound ramifications on future internet access and innovation.