Is broadband essential, like water or electricity? New net neutrality effort makes the case

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Landmark net neutrality rules rolled back under former President Donald Trump could return under renewed pressure from US Federal Communications Commission Chair Jessica Rosenworsel. The rules would reclassify broadband access as an essential service on par with other utilities like water or electricity.

“For everyone, everywhere, to enjoy the full benefits of the Internet age, Internet access must not only be readily available and affordable,” Rosenworcel said at an event at the National Press Club. “The Internet needs to be open.”

The proposed rules would restore fixed and mobile broadband service to its status as an essential telecommunications service under Title II of the Communications Act. It would also prohibit Internet service providers from lawfully blocking or throttling Internet traffic and selling “fast lanes” that prioritize some traffic over others in exchange for payment.

The move comes after President Joe Biden took majority control of the five-member FCC on Monday for the first time since swearing in new FCC Commissioner Ana Gomez in January 2021.

Rosenworsel said the FCC will vote in October to take public comments on the proposed rule.

What is net neutrality?

Net neutrality is the principle that internet providers treat all web traffic equally, and it’s how the internet has worked since its creation. But regulators, consumer advocates and Internet companies were concerned about what broadband companies could do with their power as the Internet’s path — for example, block or slow down apps that compete with their own services.

What is the history behind net neutrality?

In 2015 the FCC approved the rules in a party-line vote, which ensured that cable and phone companies would not manipulate traffic. With them, a provider like Comcast can’t charge Netflix for a faster path to its customers, or block or slow it down.

Net neutrality rules gave the FCC the power to go after companies for business practices that weren’t expressly prohibited. For example, the Obama FCC said that “zero rating” practices by AT&T violated net neutrality. The telecom giant exempted its own video app from cellphone data caps, which will save some consumers money, and said video rivals could pay for the same treatment. Under current chairman Ajit Pai, the FCC has ramped up efforts to go after AT&T, even before it begins planning to roll back net neutrality rules entirely.

A federal appeals court upheld the rules in 2016 after broadband providers sued.

However, the FCC repealed the Obama-era policy in 2017. The move represents a radical departure from more than a decade of federal oversight.



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