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The FCC Will Soon Vote on Net Neutrality. Here’s What It Could Mean for You

 The FCC Will Soon Vote on Net Neutrality. Here’s What It Could Mean for You

Net neutrality may be making a comeback. On April 25, the US Federal Communications Commission is set to vote on a proposal to restore net neutrality rules rescinded under former President Donald Trump, the agency announced Wednesday.

If the five-person committee passes it, the proposal would reinstate protections established in 2015 — namely, the principle that all internet traffic must be treated equally. That means your internet service provider wouldn’t be allowed to do things like slow down or speed up your favorite websites based on whether those sites pay extra money to prioritize their traffic.

Democrats in Washington have repeatedly tried to revive net neutrality protections over the years — including with an executive order encouraging the FCC to act — but the commission was down a member and has been locked in a 2-2 stalemate for most of President Joe Biden’s presidency. In October, though, the Senate voted to confirm Democrat Anna Gomez to the committee. Around the same time, FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel drafted a proposal on the new net neutrality rules (which look much like the old ones). After the FCC solicited comments and feedback for several months, those rules are now ready for a vote.

“The pandemic proved once and for all that broadband is essential,” Rosenworcel said in a statement. “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. 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.”

In addition to restoring protections regarding throttling or prioritizing traffic to certain sites, the new proposal would label broadband as an essential service, like water, power and phone services, by designating it a “common carrier” under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934. Though this would theoretically give the FCC greater authority over ISPs when it came to things like outages and monopoly abuses, some industry experts are skeptical about how much of an impact it would have.

“Like its predecessors, this policy debate will generate significant headlines and commentary [but] is unlikely to generate significant changes in how the ISPs operate, nor material changes in their revenues, margins or opportunities,” Blair Levin, a former FCC chief of staff and telecom industry analyst at New Street Research, wrote in a research note (subscription required).

“From an investor perspective, we think the bottom line is regardless of the outcome of the FCC and subsequent judicial proceeding, no one should count on ISPs improving revenues or margins by virtue of strategy that requires blocking, throttling or unreasonable prioritization,” Levin added.

In its statement, the FCC also highlighted other priorities, like oversight over internet outages, updated cybersecurity standards and protection of consumer data from broadband companies. There has already been some predictable pushback from the broadband industry. 

“In the absence of any harm, the FCC is barreling ahead with a backward-looking, unnecessary proposal,” Michael Powell, a former FCC chairman and the current CEO of trade group the NCTA (for Internet & Television Association), said in a statement. “Reimposing heavy-handed regulation will not just hobble network investment and innovation, it will also seriously jeopardize our nation’s collective efforts to build and sustain reliable broadband in rural and unserved communities.”

If the commission votes to approve the proposal, the revamped net neutrality rules would take effect 60 days after they’re published to the Federal Register. The FCC is also encouraging public comments ahead of the vote, which can be submitted in advance through a website form

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