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Earlier this week, FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel announced her plan to return to the FCC the authority to act as a strong advocate for a user-powered, open internet.

The agency will vote on April 25 on whether to reclassify high-speed-internet access services as telecom services subject to Title II of the Communications Act. Title II authority allows the FCC to safeguard Net Neutrality and hold companies like AT&T, Comcast and Verizon accountable to internet users across the United States. On Thursday, Rosenworcel released a draft of the proposed rule change, setting in motion the final phase of negotiations before the five-member commission votes on the order.

The FCC already has the tools to make the internet work better for everyone. It just needs to use them. Those tools are offered under Title II of the Communications Act, which provides the agency with the ability to ensure that internet service providers can’t block, throttle or otherwise discriminate against the content everyone accesses online.

But Title II also provides the FCC with the regulatory means to ensure that broadband prices and practices are “just and reasonable.” It gives the agency the proper leverage to eliminate abusive behavior by providers like AT&T and Comcast, safeguard online privacy and protect public safety.

In her announcement Wednesday on the agency's plan to vote on Title II, FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel said that the COVID-19 pandemic “proved once and for all that broadband is essential.” The Trump FCC's 2017 decision to relinquish the agency's authority over broadband services had “handcuffed [the FCC] from acting to fully secure broadband networks, protect consumer data, and ensure the internet remains fast, open, and fair.”

How we got here

Over years of legal battles, the courts made it clear that to protect Net Neutrality, the FCC had to use the legal authority Congress granted it under Title II. The Obama FCC did exactly that when in 2015 it classified internet broadband access as a Title-II common carrier. But then the Trump FCC — under the thrall of powerful phone and cable company lobbyists — ripped these tools from the agency’s hands. 

Losing Title II hurt people, which is why millions protested the Trump FCC’s actions. Not only did its repeal gut the Net Neutrality rules, it also surrendered the agency's power to protect communities from unjust or unreasonable practices by these internet-access goliaths.

In 2020, then-candidate Joe Biden said he was “outraged that the Trump administration reversed [the Obama FCC’s] Open Internet Rule.” The 2020 Democratic Party platform called on the party leadership to “restore the FCC's clear authority to take strong enforcement action against broadband providers who violate Net Neutrality principles.”

Doing so makes perfect political sense regardless of your politics: A University of Maryland poll found that 86 percent of voters opposed the FCC’s repeal of the Title II Net Neutrality rules, including 82 percent of Republicans and 90 percent of Democrats. A Comparitech poll found that 77 percent of Republicans and 87 percent of Democrats support the 2015 Title II Net Neutrality safeguards that the Obama FCC had put in place. 

But it's taken the Biden FCC more than three years to get us here. The FCC had been stymied by a concerted effort of phone- and cable-industry lobbyists, far-right politicians and white-nationalist astroturf groups, who succeeded in delaying confirmation of a fifth commissioner needed for the Democrats to have a majority vote at the agency. Last September, that seat was filled — finally — by Anna Gomez, a lawyer with 30 years of public and private sector experience in domestic and international communications law.

Soon thereafter, Chairwoman Rosenworcel announced plans to begin an agency public-comment proceeding to restore the FCC’s authority under Title II. Fast forward to Rosenworcel’s recent announcement and the agency is now ready to vote to return these vital protections.

The FCC is doing what it’s supposed to do: Protect the public

Throughout this process, and in the twenty years of debate around Title II and Net Neutrality, the phone and cable lobby has demonstrated a willingness to say anything and everything to avoid being held accountable. And in the coming weeks they will tell all manner of lies as they breathlessly spin the coming vote as some dark government scheme to "take over the internet." 

They'll say that Title II’s common-carriage standard is a heavy-handed regulation that will undermine investment in new broadband deployment; in reality, executives from these companies have said publicly that their capital expenditures aren't impacted in any way by Title II rules. They'll say open-internet protections are a solution in search of a problem; in reality, there's an extensive history of the sorts of industry abuses that Title II oversight would keep in check. They'll even claim that Net Neutrality is a hyper-partisan, politicized issue — ignoring public polling (see above) that shows internet users on the political left, right and center overwhelmingly support the sort of baseline protections offered under Title II.

We’ve been fighting for this win since Trump’s FCC threw out strong Title II rules in 2017. By restoring safeguards that millions fought so hard to make a reality, the FCC would once again be following the law Congress wrote for modern internet-access service, re-establishing its oversight of the telecommunications service that connects all of us.  

“Without this clear authority over broadband access, the FCC is vastly weakened in its ability to protect internet users from ISPs’ privacy invasions, promote broadband competition and deployment, and take action against hidden junk fees, data caps and billing rip-offs,” Free Press Action Co-CEO Craig Aaron said earlier this week. “Reclassifying broadband access under this authority changes all of that. Moreover, it shows a government agency doing what it’s supposed to do: Listen to the public and stand up for them against rich and powerful companies that for too long have called all the shots in D.C.”

Come April 25, I and many of the amazing advocates who've been fighting this fight for the past 20 years will be on hand at the FCC to witness the final vote. It will be a moment to celebrate our hard work and thank the agency for restoring these all-important online rights.

But it’s not just a win for us. It’s one for the hundreds of millions of people across the United States who need someone defending their interests when they connect and communicate via this essential infrastructure.


Support our critical work to restore and protect Net Neutrality with a donation today.

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