WASHINGTON, September 26, 2023 – The Federal Communications Commission is planning to seek comment on reinstating net neutrality rules, FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel announced on Tuesday.
Net neutrality rules give the FCC more authority to regulate internet companies by classifying broadband as an essential communications service under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934, including the power to prevent internet providers from adjusting the speed of network traffic to favor certain sites. The agency instated similar rules in 2015 before they were repealed by then-Republican Chairman Ajit Pai in 2017.
Mirroring the 2015 rules, the proposal – set to be released on Thursday – specifies that when regulating broadband providers under Title II, the commission would pass up 27 of the most onerous provisions in the law and hundreds of agency regulations that typically apply to Title II services like voice calling, Rosenworcel said in the announcement.
Rosenworcel said that internet access is essential to modern life, and needs to be regulated accordingly to ensure fair access.
“No one without it has a fair shot at 21st century success,” she said.
The move comes just one day after Anna Gomez was sworn in as a commissioner, giving Democrats at the FCC a 3-2 majority. The commission has been split since President Joe Biden took office, with his nominee Gigi Sohn withdrawing from consideration in March 2023, citing attacks on her character from lobbyists.
Republican Commissioner Brendan Carr issued a statement before Rosenworcel’s announcement on Tuesday cautioning against moving forward with net neutrality efforts. He cited an analysis by two Barack Obama lawyers, which highlighted the Supreme Court’s application of the “major questions doctrine” in a 2022 case limiting the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to regulate emissions.
Under the doctrine, the court has held in recent years that federal agencies must have explicit authorization from Congress to impose regulations of major economic and political significance. Since the FCC did not receive congressional instruction to categorize broadband as a Title II service, the move is likely to be struck down, the lawyers wrote.
In an effort to codify expanded FCC authority over internet providers, congressional Democrats introduced in July 2022 a bill to explicitly define broadband as a Title II service. It was referred to committees, and no further actions have been taken on them.
The proposal will be a subject of discussion at the FCC’s open meeting on October 19. After its likely approval by the commission’s Democratic majority, the proposed rules will be up for public comment.