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FCC Seeks to Reinstate Net Neutrality Rules

The Federal Communications Commission voted late last week to advance a proposal that would reinstate Obama-era net neutrality rules, according to The New York Times (subscription).

What’s going on: “The commissioners at the Democratic-led agency voted 3 to 2 along party lines to kick off a monthslong process to bring back so-called net neutrality regulations.”

  • In an NAM-supported move in 2018, the previous administration repealed net neutrality regulations put into place by President Obama in 2015, saying they stymied innovation.

Why it’s important: Last week’s proposal—which telecommunications companies have pledged to fight—“will ultimately enable the agency to categorize high-speed internet as a utility, like water or electricity. … The agency will then be able to police broadband providers for net neutrality violations.”

  • That’s precisely why the proposal to restore the rules is problematic, critics say. A trade group representing telecom firms “wrote letters this week to the House and Senate Intelligence Committees warning of ‘mission creep’ by the F.C.C.”
  • In 2017, then-FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said net neutrality laws amounted to “special interests [who] weren’t trying to solve a real problem but [were] instead looking for an excuse to achieve their longstanding goal of forcing the Internet under the federal government’s control.”

Government overreach: Indeed, the 2015 net neutrality rules—very similar to the ones now being advanced—were a prime example of agency overreach, said NAM Chief Legal Officer Linda Kelly in 2018.

  • The 2015 FCC’s “heavy-handed approach … was neither appropriate nor necessary for the rapidly evolving, highly competitive broadband market,” Kelly said.
  • Net neutrality laws also decrease investment in broadband, the NAM has told policymakers.

Up next: The FCC will take public comments on the proposed rules. The commission could vote to adopt new regulations as soon as early next year.

The last word: “Manufacturers are disappointed the FCC is moving forward with its proposal to regulate 21st-century broadband with rules designed for the era of the rotary phone,” said NAM Vice President of Domestic Policy Charles Crain. “Reinstating this misguided, overreaching policy of the past is a recipe for stymied innovation and outdated infrastructure.”

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