The net neutrality issue has bubbled to the surface once again, this time in the form of newly introduced legislation in the U.S. which would formally codify broadband as a Title II telecommunications service. Thus far, the response from telecom industry groups appears to be a collective sigh of exasperation.
Introduced by Senators Edward Markey, Ron Wyden and Congresswoman Doris Matsui, the two-page bill strikes right at the heart of the net neutrality issue by aiming to ensure the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has the proper authority to implement net neutrality regulations.
Broadband was originally classified as a Title I information service, meaning it was subject to less stringent regulation. In 2015, the FCC reclassified broadband as a Title II telecommunications service, which allowed the agency to implement net neutrality regulations prohibiting blocking, throttling and paid prioritization. At the end of 2017, though, the FCC repealed its net neutrality rules and returned broadband to Title I classification.
In a statement, Senator Markey said the new bill would once again “give the FCC the tools it needs to protect the free and open internet.”
“Broadband is not a luxury. It is essential. That means the potential harms that internet users face without strong net neutrality protections and without the FCC able to exercise its proper authority are more sweeping than ever,” he said.
This isn’t the first time Congress has attempted to address net neutrality. In 2019, the House of Representatives passed the Save the Internet Act, which sought to reverse the FCC’s 2017 action. However, that legislation stalled in the Senate.
New Street Research analyst Blair Levin said in a note to investors the new bill will also likely fizzle out but added it could just be the opening salvo in a fresh debate cycle.
“There are lots of reasons to introduce legislation other than believing there is a material chance of passage,” he explained. “In this case, particularly considering the [Supreme Court's] EPA decision moving power from the administrative agencies to the courts and the states, such legislation could serve as an opening gambit for progressive forces in a future Congress.”
Telecom groups are already teeing up their defense.
USTelecom President and CEO Jonathan Spalter said in a statement “broadband providers support net neutrality and already operate under these important principles” without regulations demanding they do so. He also pointed to “critical investments” operators are making in their networks and argued “legislative proposals that would put any of this progress at risk are not the right answer.”
The Wireless Internet Service Providers Association (WISPA) also opposed the new bill, calling it “highly problematic” and claimed it would “would result in fewer solutions and deployment growth in the very areas most in need of it.”
Perhaps the strongest words came from NCTA – The Internet and Television Association CEO Michael Powell, who said “In the wake of the once-in-a-lifetime infrastructure bill, we need to be focused collectively on closing the digital divide and not taking a ride on the net neutrality carousel for the umpteenth time for no discernable reason.”
That said, there are plenty of backers lining up behind the new legislation. A roster of more than 40 entities includes the American Civil Liberties Union, Electronic Frontier Foundation, National Digital Inclusion Alliance, New America’s Open Technology Institute and Public Knowledge. FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel also expressed her support for the bill.