Federal Communications Commission Revives Net Neutrality Regulations in 3-2 Vote

By Greg Tavarez April 25, 2024

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission, or FCC (News - Alert), implemented net neutrality rules in 2015 under the Obama administration.

Net neutrality refers to the idea that ISPs should treat all data on their networks equally. This means ISPs can't slow down certain websites or apps, block access to specific content or charge more for faster speeds to certain services.

Net neutrality (News - Alert) helps ensure that everyone has equal access to information and innovation online. ISPs can't favor certain websites or services over others, which could stifle competition and limit consumer choice. Also, a neutral net allows new startups and content creators to compete on a fair playing field without having to pay extra fees to reach users.

The FCC under former President Donald Trump had repealed these rules in 2017, arguing they stifled investment. But Democrats and digital rights advocates have long championed net neutrality; they've feared that without it, ISPs could create a tiered internet with faster speeds for those who pay more.

In 2021, President Joe Biden signed an executive order encouraging the FCC to reinstate net neutrality rules adopted under President Barack Obama. The Democrats couldn’t act on it because they didn’t have the majority of the FCC. Until October 2023. That was when the commission voted 3-2 on the proposal to reinstate the net neutrality rules.

Now, as of early this morning, the FCC voted 3-2 to reinstate net neutrality rules and resume regulatory oversight of broadband internet.

“Broadband access to the internet is a critical conduit that is essential for modern life,” said Commissioner Anna M. Gomez, in a press release from the FCC. “Protecting this critical infrastructure that is essential to the safety, economy, health, education, and well-being of this country is good public policy. The value is so great that we cannot wait for the flood to arrive before we start to build the levee.”

A full statement from Gomez will be published on the FCC website.

There were some mixed emotions about the decision because the impact of net neutrality on ISPs is a subject of ongoing debate. Proponents argue that a neutral internet fosters competition and innovation, which leads to a more vibrant and profitable digital marketplace for everyone.

According to a Reuters article by David Shepardson, applauding the FCC's decision, digital rights watchdog Free Press hailed it as a win for everyday internet users. They argue the new regulations allow the FCC to crack down on major ISPs like AT&T, Comcast, Spectrum and Verizon (News - Alert), and hold them responsible for various issues plaguing internet users nationwide.

And siding with open internet advocates, the Computer & Communications Industry Association – which counts tech giants like Amazon, Apple, Alphabet (Google), and Meta Platforms (Facebook (News - Alert)) as members – threw its weight behind net neutrality. The CCIA argues that reinstating these regulations is crucial for maintaining a free and accessible internet for everyone.

Opponents argue that restrictions on prioritization and traffic shaping limit ISPs' ability to manage their networks efficiently and recoup investments.

As Shepardson points out in his article, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce slammed the FCC's decision, arguing the new rules resurrect a clunky, outdated regulatory system from before the internet age. They claim these restrictions will stifle investment and innovation, hindering efforts to bring internet access to all Americans. Similarly, USTelecom (News - Alert), an industry association representing companies like AT&T and Verizon, denounced the return of net neutrality as pointless, harmful to consumers and a bureaucratic burden.

The debate aside, net neutrality is here (though there is a chance the FCC’s move will face legal challenges from industry groups).

The success of net neutrality for ISPs hinges on several factors. Clear and enforceable regulations are crucial to prevent loopholes and ensure a truly level playing field. Additionally, ISPs need to find alternative revenue streams that don't rely on traffic manipulation. This could involve focusing on value-added services, improved customer experiences and potentially tiered pricing based on data caps or overall bandwidth.

While it does restrict some revenue-generating tactics, it also creates a more predictable and potentially more profitable environment in the long run. Through innovation, and while focusing on infrastructure improvements and exploring alternative revenue models, ISPs can adapt to a neutral internet and thrive in a competitive marketplace.

Edited by Alex Passett
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