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FCC restores net neutrality rules

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Apr 25, 2024
Illustration of an arrow cursor being lassoed by a blue ethernet cable

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

The FCC on Thursday voted along party lines to treat internet companies like utilities, clearing the way for heightened scrutiny on the industry.

Why it matters: Reclassifying broadband under Title II will allow the agency to establish net neutrality protections, meaning prohibiting internet service providers from blocking access to content, slowing down traffic or showing preferential treatment to platforms.

The FCC is also now empowered to:

  • Prohibit internet companies from selling Americans' location data and other sensitive information
  • Collect data on outages and support first responders during emergencies
  • Protect Americans from internet providers controlled by foreign adversaries

The intrigue: The FCC's reclassification indirectly wades into issues of free speech and Big Tech.

  • While the FCC does not have the authority to police online speech, Chair Jessica Rosenworcel's office said in a statement that open internet protections prevent internet companies from censoring any type of online speech.
  • Rosenworcel's office said the reclassification will prevent Big Tech companies from cutting a deal with a broadband provider to favor its products over small and midsized competitors.

The other side: Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Sen. Ted Cruz rallied Republican lawmakers to sign on to a letter sent Wednesday to Rosenworcel denouncing the reclassification.

  • USTelecom President & CEO Jonathan Spalter called the reclassification "relentless regulation" and said it undermines shared goals to connect every American to the internet.
  • "This is a nonissue for broadband consumers, who have enjoyed an open internet for decades," he said in a statement.

What we're watching: How the federal order impacts states that have their own net neutrality laws.

  • The FCC's order preempts any state measure that it finds is incompatible with the federal regulations.
  • The Electronic Frontier Foundation wants the FCC to clarify that states are not seen as incompatible simply because they go further than the federal government.

Catch up quick: FCC observers have been waiting for this moment since President Biden took office and gained the ability to reinstate the Obama-era rules that were rolled back under former President Trump.

Yes, but: Unlike a law passed by Congress, the FCC's actions can be overturned with the arrival of a Republican administration.

What's next: The rules will largely go into effect 60 days after their publication in the Federal Register.

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