Biden Tasks FCC With Restoring Net Neutrality with Executive Order
WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden issued a far-reaching executive order promoting competition in the American economy last week, one provision of which encourages the Federal Communications Commission to restore net neutrality rules undone by the Trump administration.
Net neutrality refers to the policy of requiring internet service providers to offer equal access to all web content without slowing down or blocking customers’ connections to certain websites. In 2015, the Obama-Biden administration issued a regulatory plan that prohibited ISPs from discriminating against certain content by blocking consumer access to sites or apps, artificially slowing data transmission or creating paid prioritization by charging customers premiums for expedited internet access.
“I have long been a supporter of net neutrality and I objected when during the last administration there was an effort to roll back the FCC’s open internet rules,” FCC Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said during a press conference Tuesday. “I don’t have any plans to announce today, but I am grateful that the president supports net neutrality and I think it’s an important competition and consumer protection issue.’
In December 2017, the FCC under the guidance of the Trump-Pence administration revoked net neutrality policies, prompting some states to issue their own set of regulations for ISPs. Although Biden’s order cannot be implemented without the FCC’s commissioners’ vote of approval, it does empower the agency to move in the direction of issuing new consumer protections that hinder ISPs from raising prices for improved internet speeds.
“The executive order heads down the wrong path when it comes to strengthening competition in the broadband market,” FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr said in a written statement. “It does not propose actions to further accelerate new infrastructure builds or to free up more spectrum — steps that would represent surefire ways to increase consumer choice. Instead, the Biden administration [sic] goes in another direction and seems to double down on price controls, government-run networks, and monopoly-style regulations — actions that would only make it harder for smaller providers and new entrants to compete.”
Proponents of net neutrality policy contend that equal internet access for consumers is critical for commercial innovation and that the growth of emerging companies would be stifled if broadband providers were able to pick favorites based on who pays the most for web connection.
However, opponents of the rules contend that the opposite is true — suggesting that net neutrality rules prohibit companies from experimenting with new revenue models for their business and discourages them from offering more choices to their customers.
“We are disappointed that the executive order rehashes misleading claims about the broadband marketplace, including the tired and disproven assertion that ISPs would block or throttle consumers from accessing the internet content of their choice,” NCTA – The Internet & Television Association said in a written statement. “America’s broadband networks have been the nation’s most resilient and critical infrastructure during the pandemic, keeping our economy moving and enabling our citizens to learn, work and stay connected from the safety of their homes.”
But the throttling of connections is exactly what took place following the repeal of net neutrality, according to a 2019 report published by researchers at Northeastern University. The report was constructed from crowdsourced data collected by an app developed by the researchers and showed AT&T capped video connections at 1.5 megabits per second on the company’s cheapest “unlimited” internet plan.
Biden’s executive order also issued greater scrutiny of mergers by “big-tech platforms,” in an effort to ensure consumers have options when it comes to mobile carriers and ISPs. In 2019, the FCC and the Department of Justice approved T-Mobile’s $26.5 billion merger with Sprint, which brought the number of major domestic mobile carriers down to just three.
Implementing these changes will require Biden to appoint another FCC commissioner who favors net neutrality policies. Currently, the four FCC commissioners are evenly divided by partisan affiliation, meaning any issue brought up for a vote is likely to end in a tie.
“Our economy thrives on competition,” Rosenworcel said in a written statement. “It is the reason the United States is home to some of the most dynamic companies in the world. I welcome this effort by the president to enhance competition in the American economy and in the nation’s communications sector.”
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