US communications regulator restores net neutrality annulled under Trump

washington — The U.S. Federal Communications Commission voted 3-2 on Thursday to reinstate landmark net neutrality rules and reassume regulatory oversight of broadband internet rescinded under former President Donald Trump. 

The commission voted along party lines to finalize a proposal first advanced in October to reinstate open internet rules adopted in 2015 and re-establish the commission’s broadband authority. 

FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said the agency “believes every consumer deserves internet access that is fast, open, and fair.” 

“The last FCC threw this authority away and decided broadband needed no supervision,” she said. 

Net neutrality refers to the principle that internet service providers should enable access to all content and applications regardless of the source, and without favoring or blocking particular products or websites. 

The FCC said it was also using its authority to order the U.S. units of China Telecom, China Unicom and China Mobile to discontinue broadband internet access services in the United States.  

Rosenworcel noted the FCC has taken similar actions against Chinese telecom companies in the past using existing authority. 

Reinstating the net neutrality rules has been a priority for President Joe Biden, who signed a July 2021 executive order encouraging the FCC to reinstate net neutrality rules adopted under Democratic President Barack Obama. 

Democrats were stymied for nearly three years because they did not take majority control of the five-member FCC until October. 

Under Trump, the FCC had argued the net neutrality rules were unnecessary, blocked innovation and resulted in a decline in network investment by internet service providers, a contention disputed by Democrats. 

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce criticized the FCC action saying it was “imposing a flawed, pre-television era regulatory structure on broadband” and “will only deter the investments and innovation necessary to connect all Americans.” 

Public interest group Free Press said the vote is a “major victory for the public interest” saying it “empowers the FCC to hold companies like AT&T, Comcast, Spectrum and Verizon accountable for a wide range of harms to internet users across the United States.” 

A group of Republican lawmakers, including House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Senator Ted Cruz, called the plan “an illegal power grab that would expose the broadband industry to an oppressive regulatory regime” giving the agency and states power to impose rate regulation, unbundle obligations and tax broadband internet providers. 

Democrats on the FCC say they will not set rate regulations. 

The Computer & Communications Industry Association, whose members include, Apple, Alphabet and Meta Platforms, back net neutrality, arguing the rules “must be reinstated to preserve open access to the internet.” 

USTelecom, whose members include AT&T, Verizon and others, called reinstating net neutrality “entirely counterproductive, unnecessary, and an anti-consumer regulatory distraction.” 

Despite the 2017 decision to withdraw the requirement at the federal level, a dozen states now have net neutrality laws or regulations in place. Industry groups abandoned legal challenges to those state requirements in May 2022. 

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