Today, Federal Communications Commission Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel delivered remarks at the National Press Club announcing a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to reinstate the agency’s Title II classification of broadband service – reopening the door for many important consumer protections that put people first, including strong net neutrality rules.
The FCC classified all broadband under its authority when it passed net neutrality rules in 2015 as part of the agency’s Open Internet Order, which barred broadband providers from throttling connection speeds, blocking websites, and accepting payment for prioritizing traffic. Millions of Americans expressed support for these rules by submitting comments with the FCC, but the agency’s then-Chairman Ajit Pai reversed the order in the agency’s unpopular 2017 repeal by abdicating authority over broadband completely – an unprecedented and unconscionable move that leaves consumers vulnerable to deteriorating broadband lines that have not been maintained or upgraded; some network traffic being blocked or throttled; and rising broadband prices.
Later, when the Pai FCC tried to prevent broadband consumer protections at the state level, the courts ruled that the agency can’t have it both ways. Either it has authority and conducts consumer protection, or it doesn’t have authority and must stay out of the way of state protections. Today’s announcement sets the FCC on a course to have national protections for broadband networks, after years of little to no action, due to the Pai FCC repeal.
The following can be attributed to Chris Lewis, President and CEO at Public Knowledge:
“I am happy to support Chairwoman Rosenworcel’s announcement of a proceeding to ensure the FCC has the proper authority to protect consumers over broadband networks. This is an issue that is long delayed settling because of the powerful influence of the largest cable and telecommunications companies in Washington. We need clear broadband authority at the FCC to be settled so that the Commission can do the work the American people expect from it.
“Americans understand as common sense what Washington elites continue to debate: Broadband is the essential communications utility network of the 21st century, like the telephone before it. We need an FCC that clearly accepts and asserts its authority to protect consumers in the broadband market. Most Americans have access to only one high-speed broadband provider, two if they’re lucky. These local monopolies require protections that Title II of the Communications Act was built to ensure over communications networks like phone, and now broadband. Without these protections, essential communications around health, education, employment, and public safety may not reach all Americans, or they may pay extra because of anticompetitive or discriminatory practices by the providers.
“Without Title II authority, the FCC is left in a position where it must beg for pledges and promises from broadband providers to participate in closing the digital divide, rather than requiring it from these local monopolies. We saw this happen in both the Trump and Biden administrations when broadband providers pledged to maintain service for users during the pandemic and to offer a low-income broadband service, respectively. Without Title II authority, broadband providers can violate basic network neutrality nondiscrimination principles and control where you go online and what services you can use over broadband networks. We’ve seen this time and time again, from text messaging traffic to essential public safety communications. Without Title II authority, the FCC cannot enforce quality, reliability, and public safety standards for this essential communications network. We saw this in the 2010s when broadband providers replaced networks destroyed in hurricanes with sub-standard connectivity that left small businesses and residents in New York without many capabilities we take for granted today.
“Why do Americans take network reliability, security, and openness for granted? Because for almost a century, the Communications Act has empowered the FCC to make sure that the network functions fairly, properly, and reaches all of us no matter where we live. This mandate is no different for broadband networks than it was for phones almost a century ago. Sadly, a lack of clear authority at the FCC has left many Americans with deteriorating, unreliable broadband infrastructure, deployment practices that discriminate against rural and low-income neighborhoods, anticompetitive data practices, and a Universal Service Program built for the phone instead of broadband access. We look forward to seeing this new broadband proceeding move quickly at the FCC so that the Commission has all the tools needed to ensure that all Americans have access to open, secure, reliable, and affordable broadband.”
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