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The FCC is finally voting on restoring net neutrality—3 years after Biden took office

The lengthy delay raises questions about the administration's commitment.


Katherine Huggins


Posted on Apr 3, 2024

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will vote later this month on restoring net neutrality rules rescinded during former President Donald Trump’s administration, FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel announced on Wednesday.

The vote comes over three years into President Joe Biden’s administration.

Net neutrality is the principle that internet service providers must treat all data on the internet fairly, meaning that companies like Verizon or Comcast can’t favor certain data with faster speeds and throttle or slow down access to other material.

In 2017, the GOP-led FCC repealed the federal government’s net neutrality rules established during the Obama administration.

In response, states like California pushed strong laws to challenge big telecom in the absence of federal oversight.

“After the prior administration abdicated authority over broadband services, the FCC has been handcuffed from acting to fully secure broadband networks, protect consumer data, and ensure the internet remains fast, open, and fair,” Rosenworcel said in a statement announcing the vote. “A return to the FCC’s overwhelmingly popular and court-approved standard of net neutrality will allow the agency to serve once again as a strong consumer advocate of an open internet.”

The announcement is a formality, as the Democrat-led FCC will likely approve the measure. However, the process of implementing them if approved gets difficult, given how close the announcement comes to the 2024 election. If Trump were to defeat Biden, the Democrats would lose their majority on the FCC.

While the Biden administration continually advocated for the restoration of federal net neutrality rules, the administration’s inability to fully staff the FCC for more than half his presidency prevented any actual action.

Biden dithered on nominating a fifth commissioner to the FCC, and when he finally picked Gigi Sohn, allowed her to twist in the wind for over a year before she withdrew her nomination.

Given the administration’s slow walk even after his FCC got a majority in September 2023, when the Senate approved Anna Gomez, some have questioned Biden’s commitment to the movement. When he announced his campaign for president, Biden’s first fundraiser was with a big telecom executive.

If the rules are restored, Rosenworcel says the FCC would once again play a role in preventing “broadband providers from blocking, slowing down, or creating pay-to-play internet fast lanes;” conducting oversight of broadband outages and boosting security of networks; increasing consumer protections; and restoring a national standard on internet access.

The announcement marks progress toward a longstanding goal of Rosenworcel, who denounced the 2017 decision as putting the FCC “on the wrong side of history, the wrong side of the law, and the wrong side of the American public.”

The move, which has long been expected, is already facing GOP backlash

“The Biden FCC’s net neutrality proposal is a solution—a heavy-handed government solution—in search of a problem, and it’s likely to create problems where none exist.” Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) said in January. “Given the Biden administration’s demonstrated willingness to use its regulatory power to advance its far-left economic and social agendas, it’s not hard to imagine the Biden administration using its new net neutrality powers to shape Americans’ internet experience for its own ends.”

In October, 41 Republican senators including Thune signed onto a letter rebuking Rosenworcel’s efforts to reinstate the Obama-era rules.

“Re-imposing heavy-handed, public-utility regulations on the internet would threaten the progress our country has made since 2017, and it would steer our country out of the fast lane and into a world of less competition for consumers, less choice, less investment, slower speeds, and higher prices,” the senators wrote, arguing the FCC “lacks this statutory authority over broadband internet access.”

But proponents of net neutrality rules argue the oversight would promote an open internet and free speech.

“Fair and open access to the Internet underpins virtually every aspect of American life,” Alan Davidson, an administrator at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration said in March. “The Biden administration supports the FCC’s efforts to put rules in place that preserve an open internet, promote national security, and protect consumers.”

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*First Published: Apr 3, 2024, 12:08 pm CDT