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Net Neutrality

Rosenworcel Stands Firm on Net Neutrality in Face of Lawmakers Urging Status Quo

The FCC chairwoman responded to a letter by members of Congress resisting calls to back down on net neutrality.

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FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel and former Chairman Ajit Pai

WASHINGTON, January 4, 2022 – Federal Communications Commission Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said in a letter to lawmakers last week that she continues to stand by her view that the restoration of net neutrality principles would be the best move for the internet economy.

Rosenworcel was responding to an April letter by over two dozen members of Congress, who urged the chairwoman to maintain the current “light touch” regulations imposed by the 2017 commission, led by chairman Ajit Pai, who was appointed by then-President Donald Trump. That change rolled back net neutrality rules imposed by the 2015 Obama-era commission, which prevented internet service providers from influencing the content on their networks, including barring carriers from providing certain services for free over their networks – also known as “zero rating.”

In her letter on December 28, Rosenworcel, who was confirmed as commissioner of the agency by the Senate earlier that month, said the net neutrality principles of 2015 were the “strongest foundation” for the internet economy as a whole and is “fundamental” to the “foundation of openness.”

“Those principles drove investment on the edges of the network, which network operators responded to by investing in infrastructure that allows consumers to access the services of their choosing,” Rosenworcel said in the letter.

“I stand ready to work with Congress on this topic, as necessary,” she added. “However, I continue to support net neutrality and believe that the Commission has the authority to adopt net neutrality rules.”

The lawmakers – which include Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Washington, and Bob Latta, R-Ohio – used as support the efforts of service providers to maintain a robust network during the pandemic, as well as their willingness to waive late fees and open Wi-Fi hotspots as additional reasons for the commission not to impose further regulations on business. The letter also noted that the Department of Justice’s withdrawal of a lawsuit against a net neutrality law in California led to two providers axing services that relied on zero rating protections.

The lawmakers challenged previous comments made by Rosenworcel, who said that it was unfortunate that California had to fill a void left by the net neutrality rollbacks. But Rosenworcel reiterated those comments. “It is unfortunate that individual states have had to fill the void left behind after the misguided roll back of the Commission’s net neutrality policies,” she said in her letter.

And while the lawmakers said they “agree that harmful practices such as blocking, throttling, and anticompetitive behavior should not be permitted…we can achieve this without heavy-handed overregulation.”

The current make-up of the FCC includes two Democrats and two Republicans. President Joe Biden’s pick for a fifth Democratic commissioner to break the party deadlock, net neutrality advocate Gigi Sohn, is still awaiting a confirmation vote by the Senate.

This week, Sohn received endorsements from former FCC officials, but has received some apprehension from some lawmakers and a police association over her stance on end-to-end encryption.

Managing Editor Ahmad Hathout has spent the last half-decade reporting on the Canadian telecommunications and media industries for leading publications. He started the scoop-driven news site downup.io to make Canadian telecom news more accessible and digestible. Follow him on Twitter @ackmet.

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Net Neutrality

FCC Moves to Reinstate Net Neutrality, Keeps Rules Open for Comment

Public comment open until December 14, with reply comments due on January 17, 2024.

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Screenshot of FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel at the Commission's October 19 meeting.

WASHINGTON, October 19, 2023 – The Federal Communications Commission voted on Thursday to move forward with its proposal to reinstate net neutrality rules.

The move would reclassify broadband internet as a telecommunications service under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934, opening the industry up to more expansive oversight from the FCC, akin to its authority over voice providers.

“You’re dealing with the most central infrastructure in the digital age. Come on, it’s time for a national policy,” said FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel in remarks supporting the proposal.

Similar rules were put in place under the Obama administration’s FCC, but Trump-appointee Ajit Pai repealed them after just two years in 2017. 

Reclassifying broadband would bring restrictions on adjusting internet traffic speeds and other heightened fairness standards. The commission’s proposal chooses not to enforce 26 of the most onerous Title II provisions, like explicit rate regulation and network unbundling.

The proposal will be up for public comment until mid-January 2024, after which the commission will deliberate and either issue a new proposal for comment or put a rule into effect.

Commissioner Brendan Carr expressed doubt about the move’s legal viability. The FCC’s 2015 implementation of net neutrality rules passed legal muster, as did a similar 1998 reclassification of DSL services to Title II status.

But there has since been a “sea change in administrative law,” said Carr. The Supreme Court has in recent years been less deferential to federal agencies’ interpretations of the law, bucking the practice of giving expert regulators broader authority to carry out their congressional mandates. 

Absent an explicit move from Congress, the Title II reclassification “will not survive a Supreme Court encounter,” Carr said.

Commissioners voted along party lines, with the two Republicans dissenting and the three Democrats approving the measure. Despite net neutrality being a priority for President Joe Biden and Chairwoman Rosenworcel, the commission was unable to move on the issue until September, when the confirmation of Commissioner Anna Gomez created a Democratic majority.

The proposal will also not put broadband providers in the Universal Service Fund contribution base with other telecommunications service providers. There have been calls by lawmakers to update the program’s funding model, but the FCC has left it to Congress to make those changes.

Comments on the proposal will be due December 14. Reply comments will be due January 17, 2024.


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Broadband's Impact

Current FCC Pitches Net Neutrality as a Public Safety Measure

The commission could enforce providers to report and fix outages, Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said.

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Photo of former FCC Chairman Ajit Pai from 2018 by Gage Skidmore used with permission

WASHINGTON, October 5, 2023 – The Federal Communications Commission pitched on Thursday its proposal to reinstate net neutrality rules as a public safety effort.

FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel announced on September 26 plans to classify broadband internet service as a “common carrier” service under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934, reinstituting an Obama-era policy that was repealed in 2017 by Trump-appointed FCC chair Ajit Pai. That would give the commission more authority to regulate internet providers, including the ability to prevent carriers from throttling or speeding up internet traffic to certain websites.

That extra authority, the FCC said in a statement, would allow the commission to address public safety issues that arise from more relaxed federal internet regulations. Specifically, the commission would be able to oversee broadband services for first responders and bolster its authority to require internet providers to report and fix outages, as well as deny internet access to companies controlled by hostile governments.

Industry groups have reacted sharply to the proposal. Broadband providers say the regulations are unnecessary and burdensome, while software companies join human rights organizations in supporting increased oversight.

Rosenworcel has been supportive of net neutrality measures since she joined the FCC in 2021. “I believe the repeal of net neutrality put the agency on the wrong side of history, the wrong side of the law, and the wrong side of the public,” she said when announcing plans to reinstate the rules.

The move came just one day after Anna Gomez was confirmed as a commissioner, giving Democrats a 3-2 majority at the FCC. The commission had been in a 2-2 gridlock while Joe Biden’s first nominee, Gigi Sohn, spent months awaiting confirmation before withdrawing from consideration in March 2023, citing harassment by lobbyists.

The commission will vote on the proposal at its October 19 open meeting. If approved, it will go up for public comment.

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Experts Disagree on Net Neutrality Legal Ground

The Supreme Court has shown less deference to federal agencies in recent years, a BBLO panel heard.

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Screenshot of the event on Wednesday.

WASHINGTON, September 27, 2023 – Experts disagreed at a Broadband Breakfast Live Online event on Wednesday whether reinstituted Federal Communications Commission rules on net neutrality would survive legal challenges. 

The FCC announced on Tuesday that it is looking to reinstate its 2015 net neutrality regulations, which involve categorizing broadband internet as a Title II service under the Communications Act of 1934. That would give the commission more muscle to regulate the industry, on par with its authority over telephone companies.

In particular, the commission is looking to prevent carriers from throttling or increasing users’ speed depending on the site they want to access.

The move survived legal scrutiny in 2016, when the D.C. Court of Appeals held the agency had the authority to classify technologies under the act as it saw fit. The Supreme Court would ultimately refuse to hear the case and let the D.C. ruling stand.

Berin Szoka, president of policy think tank TechFreedom, said Wednesday the legal landscape has changed since then, with a conservative majority on the Supreme Court that is more willing to tell federal agencies they are overstepping their boundaries.

“In the last six years, the ground has shifted very significantly,” he said.

He pointed to a dissent from then-D.C. Circuit judge Brett Kavanaugh when the court refused to rehear the net neutrality case. Kavanaugh, now part of a conservative majority on the Supreme Court, argued the FCC’s move to reclassify broadband was too drastic for it to do without explicit authorization from Congress.

“That was a dissent in 2017. That’s now the Court’s majority position,” he said, referring to the so-called major questions doctrine. Under the doctrine, the Supreme Court has ruled in recent years that federal agencies cannot enact policies that address major economic or political questions without explicit congressional authorization, giving agencies less authority to regulate as they see fit.

Stephanie Joyce, chief of staff and senior vice president of the Computer & Communications Industry Association, a tech trade group, said the doctrine might not apply to the FCC’s action at all.

She compared net neutrality rules to the EPA’s attempt to transition power plants to clean energy sources, which the Supreme Court nixed under the doctrine.

The EPA had not taken such a step before, she said, making it a bigger change in regulation than the FCC’s reclassification of broadband. That and other technology reclassifications have precedent at the commission, she said, including both the 2015 rules and a 1998 reclassification of DSL technology.

“I’m not sure the major questions doctrine is going to carry the day here,” she said.

Chip Pickering, CEO of another tech trade group, INCOMPAS, agreed that “there’s a lot of uncertainty” about how the Supreme Court would treat a challenge net neutrality rules from the FCC. But he said that a gridlocked Congress has little chance of enacting wider regulation on internet providers.

“Title II has, so far, been the only authority that’s been upheld on net neutrality,” he said. “And we have to act now.”

FCC commissioners will vote on whether to put up the proposed rules for public comment on October 19, barring a government shutdown.

Our Broadband Breakfast Live Online events take place on Wednesday at 12 Noon ET. Watch the event on Broadband Breakfast, or REGISTER HERE to join the conversation.

BREAKING NEWS SESSION! Wednesday, September 27 – What Happens Next on Net Neutrality?

Federal Communications Commission Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel wasted no time in promulgating rules regarding network neutrality. With Anna Gomez’ confirmation as the elusive fifth commissioner, Democrats finally have a majority at the agency. The chairwoman has said that she will put forward proposed rules on the topic at the agency’s open meeting on October 19. The partisan-tinged topic is expected to largely be a return of the 2015 rules under the agency’s authority under Title II of the Communications Act. One day after Rosenworcel’s Tuesday speech on net neutrality – and one day before the item is publicly released – Broadband Breakfast will convene industry and civil society stakeholders in a discussion about What Happens Next?

Panelists

  • Chip Pickering, CEO, INCOMPAS
  • Stephanie Joyce, Chief of Staff and Senior Vice President Computer & Communications Industry Association
  • Joe Kane, Director, Broadband and Spectrum Policy, Information Technology and Innovation Foundation
  • David Zumwalt, CEO, WISPA: Broadband Without Boundaries
  • Berin Szoka, President, TechFreedom
  • Drew Clark (moderator), Editor and Publisher, Broadband Breakfast

Panelist resources:

Please note: The originally scheduled Broadband Breakfast Live Online event, on renewing the Affordable Connectivity Program, will now take place on October 11, 2023.

For nearly three decades, Chip Pickering has been at the forefront of every major telecommunications milestone. From his time as a Senate staffer on the Commerce Committee shaping the Telecommunications Act of 1996, to his role as a Member of Congress leading on tech issues and overseeing the transition to the commercial internet, to serving as CEO of the leading internet and competitive networks association advocating for more competition and innovation in our ever-evolving industry. Through his leadership at INCOMPAS, Pickering continues to be a trusted voice and a leading expert on important issues facing the tech and telecommunications industry.

Stephanie Joyce joined CCIA after decades in private practice representing technology companies and competitive carriers before state and federal administrative agencies and courts. She is an experienced advocate for procompetitive policy, including her advocacy for CCIA at the FCC on broadband deployment and Open Internet rules. Stephanie has also provided counsel to telecommunications companies, as well as CCIA, on privacy matters. Stephanie is a graduate of the University of Notre Dame, received her graduate degree from George Washington University Elliott School of International Affairs, and her law degree from George Washington University Law School.

Joe Kane is director of broadband and spectrum policy at ITIF. Previously, he was a technology policy fellow at the R Street Institute, where he covered spectrum policy, broadband deployment and regulation, competition, and consumer protection. Earlier, Joe was a graduate research fellow at the Mercatus Center, where he worked on Internet policy issues, telecom regulation, and the role of the FCC.

David Zumwalt is CEO & CEO of WISPA – Broadband Without Boundaries.WISPA represents the interests of innovative, often small ISPs that provide fixed wireless, fiber and other connectivity solutions to consumers, businesses, first responders and community anchor institutions in the digital divide.  Supported by a robust vendor and supplier ecosystem, these ISPs deliver primary broadband connectivity in traditionally underserved and unserved suburban, rural and tribal communities nationwide, with a growing subscriber base now reaching nine million Americans. Prior to WISPA he served as Chief Operating Officer of Broadband VI, a major Internet Service Provider in the US Virgin Islands.  He also served as the Executive Director of the University of the Virgin Islands Research & Technology Park, an instrumentality of the USVI government formed to establish and grow a vibrant knowledge-based sector in the Territory’s economy.  He also founded and served as Chairman and CEO of Dallas-based CNet, Inc., a leading provider of radio frequency (RF) engineering and operational support system software and services to the worldwide wireless communications industry, securing significant customer relationships in forty countries.

Berin Szoka serves as President of TechFreedom. Previously, he was a Senior Fellow and the Director of the Center for Internet Freedom at The Progress & Freedom Foundation. Before joining PFF, he was an Associate in the Communications Practice Group at Latham & Watkins LLP, where he advised clients on regulations affecting the Internet and telecommunications industries.

Breakfast Media LLC CEO Drew Clark has led the Broadband Breakfast community since 2008. An early proponent of better broadband, better lives, he initially founded the Broadband Census crowdsourcing campaign for broadband data. As Editor and Publisher, Clark presides over the leading media company advocating for higher-capacity internet everywhere through topical, timely and intelligent coverage. Clark also served as head of the Partnership for a Connected Illinois, a state broadband initiative

Illustration by Bryce Durbin of TechCrunch

WATCH HERE, or on YouTubeTwitter and Facebook.

As with all Broadband Breakfast Live Online events, the FREE webcasts will take place at 12 Noon ET on Wednesday.

SUBSCRIBE to the Broadband Breakfast YouTube channel. That way, you will be notified when events go live. Watch on YouTubeTwitter and Facebook.

See a complete list of upcoming and past Broadband Breakfast Live Online events.

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