FCC seeks to reinstate 2015 net neutrality rules

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission will soon launch an effort to reinstate net neutrality rules that were rescinded during the Trump administration, Reuters reported this morning in a move confirmed later by the FCC.

FCC chair Jessica Rosenworcel announced the initiative formally in a speech today. The development comes less than a month after Democrats gained a majority on the FCC’s five-member commission for the first time since 2021.

The rules that the agency hopes to reinstate were implemented following a 2014 statement by then-president Barack Obama. In the statement, Obama called on the FCC to “take up the strongest possible rules to protect net neutrality.” Net neutrality is the principle that internet providers should process all web traffic the same way without limiting users’ access to online services.

The year after the statement, the FCC published its landmark Open Internet Order. The 400-document introduced a set of rules specifying how internet providers should implement net neutrality. Under the order, carriers may not block or throttle users’ access to online services.

The FCC also introduced other requirements for the telecommunications industry. The order prohibited carriers from facilitating faster access to certain websites in exchange for payment. Carriers were also banned from providing other types of paid “fast lanes,” such as internet speedups accessible only on certain devices.

Under the Trump administration, the FCC rescinded the Open Internet Order. The development led multiple states to start implementing their own net neutrality rules. Today, more than 35 states have either proposed or passed regulation to protect net neutrality.

Those regulatory initiatives drew legal challenges from telecommunications industry groups. The litigation culminated with a 2022 ruling from the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. In its unanimous decision, the three-judge panel that presided over the case found states may pass their own net neutrality rules.

The panel’s decision was based in part on a 2017 FCC decision to reclassify internet services as “Title I information services,” which are more lightly regulated. The judges ruled that the move created a situation where the FTC “no longer has the authority to regulate in the same manner that it had when these services were classified as telecommunications services.” As a result, states may pass their own net neutrality rules. 

The FCC’s push to reinstate federal net neutrality protections could take some time. According to Bloomberg, the initiative is expected to involve two votes by the agency’s five-member commission and a monthslong process of collecting feedback from members of the public. Additionally, telecommunications industry groups may launch legal challenges that could draw out the initiative.

Reuters reported that the FCC plans to hold its initial vote on the matter next month. 

Image: FCC

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