Cable lobby vows “years of litigation” to avoid bans on blocking and throttling

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FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel smiling.
Enlarge / FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel at a spectrum policy event at the National Press Club on Monday, September 19, 2022.

Getty Images | CQ Roll Call/Tom Williams

The Federal Communications Commission has scheduled an April 25 vote to restore net neutrality rules similar to the ones introduced during the Obama era and repealed under former President Trump.

“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,” FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said today. “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 text of the pending net neutrality order wasn’t released today. The FCC press release said it will prohibit broadband providers “from blocking, slowing down, or creating pay-to-play Internet fast lanes” and “bring back a national standard for broadband reliability, security, and consumer protection.”

The FCC move has been expected ever since September 2023 when the Senate confirmed Biden nominee Anna Gomez to give Democrats a 3–2 majority on the commission. The Senate had refused to confirm Biden’s first nominee, Gigi Sohn, resulting in a 2–2 deadlock that lasted for most of Biden’s term.

In October 2023, the FCC voted 3–2 along party lines to seek public comment on restoring net neutrality rules and common-carrier regulation of Internet service providers under Title II of the Communications Act. Now that the public comment period ended, Rosenworcel is moving ahead with the vote to finalize the common-carrier regulation plan.

Cable industry not happy

Numerous consumer advocacy groups praised the FCC for its plan today. Lobby groups representing Internet providers expressed their displeasure.

While there hasn’t been a national standard since then-Chairman Ajit Pai led a repeal in 2017, Internet service providers still have to follow net neutrality rules because California and other states impose their own similar regulations. The broadband industry’s attempts to overturn the state net neutrality laws were rejected in court.

Although ISPs seem to have been able to comply with the state laws, they argue that the federal standard will hurt their businesses and consumers. “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,” cable lobbyist Michael Powell said today.

Powell, the CEO of cable lobby group NCTA-The Internet & Television Association, was the FCC chairman under President George W. Bush. Powell said the FCC must “reverse course to avoid years of litigation and uncertainty” in a reference to the inevitable lawsuits that industry groups will file against the agency.

The NCTA said in another statement that the FCC “is pushing unnecessary regulation that will slam the brakes on Internet for all and deny millions—especially in rural areas—the important opportunities that high-speed Internet brings.”

The cable group argues that restoring net neutrality rules will interfere with the Biden administration plan to expand broadband access with a $42.45 billion grant program that will distribute public money to ISPs. “The FCC’s plan to impose utility rules on broadband would obstruct efforts to connect those still waiting for the Internet access they deserve,” the NCTA said.