FCC launches process to reinstate net neutrality

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted today to initiate a months-long process related to net neutrality.

The FCC's Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPR) seeks comment on classifying fixed and mobile broadband internet service as an essential “telecommunications” service under Title II of the Communications Act. Currently, they're classified as "information services" under Title I of the Communications Act.

The Commission will start accepting public feedback on the NPR it originally proposed in September, which rekindled a heated debate over Title II’s net neutrality regulations.

Net neutrality would revive open internet protections that were first adopted by the Commission in 2015 but later repealed in 2017.

According to the FCC's announcement today, the proposal seeks to restore clear, nationwide open internet rules that would prevent Internet Service Providers (ISPs) from blocking legal content, throttling speeds and creating fast lanes that favor those who can pay for access.

"While the FCC can address phone service outages following natural disasters and work to ensure the resiliency of those networks before disasters strike, the Commission lacks authority over broadband networks, which can leave communities across the country without recourse when the internet service they need for these critical purposes fails," stated the FCC's announcement.

The notice also proposes that the Commission use Title II authority to regulate ISP business in a “host of other areas,” former FCC General Counsel Tom Johnson told Fierce Telecom, among them imposing cybersecurity mandates that were not included in the 2015 regulations.

With Commissioner Anna Gomez’ recent appointment, Rosenworcel's Democratic party now holds a 3-2 majority. Today’s vote fell along party lines.

RELATED: Senate votes to approve Anna Gomez as 5th FCC Commissioner

Commissioner Brendan Carr in his dissent said, “There is no more surefire way of killing off investment and innovation than putting price controls squarely on the table. Adjudicating broadband rates under a ‘just and reasonable’ standard should be a nonstarter.”

Carr also said that Title II isn’t necessary to stop ISPs from engaging in blocking, throttling or anti-consumer prioritization. “We have a free and open Internet today without Title II. ISPs aren’t engaging in that conduct for reasons that have nothing to do with Title II,” he wrote.

Speaking on AT&T's third quarter earnings call today, AT&T CEO John Stankey said there are “no indications that in the ISP segment, there's any discrimination going on. We have an industry in aggregate that supports no blocking, no paid prioritization, no throttling… no customers are complaining about what's going on in that front. So why we would use taxpayer money and resources and political capital to chase a problem that doesn't exist, is a bit of a mystery to me.”

Upon the initial unveiling of the FCC proposal various industry associations voiced their opposition, and today's FCC vote prompted many of them to reiterate their stances.

Michael Powell, CEO of NCTA – The Internet & Television Association said, “With today’s vote, the FCC unfortunately has placed politics over sound policy and fiction over facts, and we are now embarking on yet another unnecessary and distracting net neutrality proceeding.” 

The Wireless Internet Service Provider Association (WISPA) VP Louis Peraertz in a statement said that Title II regulations would hit smaller providers especially hard.

“The FCC’s proposal to regulate anew broadband providers as early 20th Century common carriers is wrong and does not enable broadband providers, particularly small and medium providers, to meet the challenges and the aggressive demands of consumers in the ever-shifting, dynamic high-tech communications marketplace,” Peraertz wrote. 

Other industry groups, including ACA Connects, USTelecom, Connect the Future (CTF) and the Free State Foundation all expressed opposition to the proposal in statements of their own, as has public policy think tank the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF).

The last time Title II was in contention, one person was sentenced to prison for sending death threats to then FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, and another was indicted for calling in a bomb threat to the FCC’s headquarters.

Rosenworcel has acknowledged that the upcoming and renewed debate over net neutrality could get "messy at times,” and asked all interested parties against going to the extremes seen in the past.

"Make some noise. Raise a ruckus. But keep it in the lines," she said. "Above all, keep speaking up. We are here now because so many people let the agency know this issue matters."