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Net Neutrality

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) defines net neutrality as a series of rules which "protect your ability to go where you want when you want online.”  Specifically, FCC Open Internet rules prohibit broadband service providers from blocking or deliberately slowing speeds for internet services or applications (blocking), favoring some internet traffic in exchange for consideration (paid prioritization), deliberately targeting some lawful internet traffic so that it is delivered more slowly than other traffic (throttling), or otherwise engaging in practices which would harm the openness of the internet.

On December 21, 2010, the FCC voted 3 to 2 to impose net neutrality regulations on internet service providers, with the goal of ensuring that all network content is treated "equally" for consumers' access.  In effect, the FCC's rules limited the ability of service providers to manage their networks as they saw appropriate.  Although Congress never granted the FCC this authority, the agency moved ahead and began to implement the regulations on November 20, 2011.  On January 14, 2014, the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia struck down the FCC's rule.  In response to the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia’s decision, President Obama affirmed his support for net neutrality on January 31, 2014.

Over a year later, on February 4, 2015, then-FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler announced his proposal - known as the Title II Order - to reclassify internet service so that it could be regulated like a utility.  In effect, this proposal prevented broadband providers from blocking access to legal content and from impairing or degrading lawful internet traffic on the basis of content.  It also disallowed the practice of paid prioritization, in which broadband providers were prevented from favoring some lawful internet traffic over other lawful traffic in exchange for consideration.  On February 26, 2015, in a 3 to 2 decision along partisan lines, the FCC voted on and passed Chairman Wheeler’s proposal.

The internet is evidence of the unparalleled heights that a true free market can reach.  But under Title II Order, these heights were threatened by federal regulations that set a dangerous precedent focused on controlling the internet rather than protecting consumers.  To combat such a precedent from taking effect, on May 18, 2017, in a 2 to 1 decision, the FCC voted to open debates regarding the enforcement of net neutrality rules.  On May 23, 2017, the FCC released a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) entitled, "In the Matter of Restoring Internet Freedom."  According to the Office of the Federal Register, this NPRM proposed to end the FCC's public-utility regulation of the internet and return to the framework that existed prior to the adoption of the Title II Order in 2015.  The Office of the Federal Register received comments on this issue from June 2, 2017 until July 17, 2017. 

Then, on December 14, 2017, in a 3 to 2 decision, the FCC voted to reinstate the light-touch framework that governed the internet from 1996 to 2015, and undo the classification of internet service providers as Title II carriers.  This vote restores authority to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to police internet service providers (ISPs) and protect consumers.  The FTC will once again have the authority to take action against ISPs that engage in unfair, deceptive, or anti-competitive acts.  This will require ISPs to be more transparent so that consumers can buy plans that are best for them. 

The vote simply restores the bipartisan approach that made the internet what it is today: a space where consumers benefit from greater investment in digital infrastructure and increased competition, which ultimately leads to better internet access.  This new course of action opens new avenues for telemedicine, distance learning, future innovations, and expanded rural broadband access.

The internet is a place where ideas, creativity, and entrepreneurship can flourish, and the recent FCC action ensures it stays that way.  The FCC’s decision to repeal these regulations is welcome news.  Congress is committed to working with the Trump administration to enact policies that protect consumers and ensure Americans have access to a free and open internet.