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WASHINGTON — On Thursday, Sens. Ed Markey (Massachusetts) and Ron Wyden (Oregon) and Rep. Doris Matsui (California) introduced the Net Neutrality and Broadband Justice Act, which would confirm the legal classification of broadband internet-access service as a telecommunications service under the Communications Act.

Clarifying the legal treatment of broadband in this way is key to restoring the Federal Communications Commission’s authority to oversee this vital industry. The legislation would protect internet users by affirming the FCC’s role in ensuring that resilient and reliable high-speed internet access is offered on just, reasonable, affordable and nondiscriminatory terms to everyone in the United States.

The FCC has the ability to clarify this legal question for itself. Courts have repeatedly upheld the agency’s authority to determine the status of internet-access service under the law. Due to the Senate’s protracted failure to confirm President Biden’s FCC nominee, Gigi Sohn, the Commission hasn’t been able to take on this and other important tasks. Sohn would be the tie-breaking vote at the agency on issues like the regulatory treatment of broadband and restoration of Net Neutrality rules the Trump FCC repealed in 2017.

Free Press Action Co-CEO Jessica J. González said:

“The Net Neutrality and Broadband Justice Act is the obvious solution to several questions that are easy to answer, at least outside of the cynical world of corporate lobbying. Is equitable internet access essential to modern life? Is it important enough to protect with a strong set of rights? And can we count on giant phone and cable companies to offer it on just and reasonable terms to poor people, communities of color and other underserved constituencies — or do we need a federal agency capable of defending those rights?

“This bill offers a resounding affirmation of the FCC’s mandate to ensure that the 21st century’s essential telecommunications service is reliable, resilient and affordable for everyone. Public-opinion polling shows that voters across the political spectrum support measures like this important legislation, which would treat broadband like the utility service it has become and provide the platform for putting Net Neutrality safeguards back in place.

“We didn’t really need the pandemic to prove just how crucial internet access is, just how vast the digital divide is or just how much people need a strong legal framework protecting their ability to get online and stay connected during times of crisis and times in between. But that experience drove home the need to support broadband deployment and affordability with serious public investments like the ones Congress made in 2021’s bipartisan infrastructure act. Now it’s time to secure those investments and restore the FCC’s ability to steward them. This important bill would let the agency use its full authority under the law to promote broadband adoption and prohibit abusive practices by internet service providers like AT&T, Comcast and Verizon.

“The broken politics of Washington, D.C., have kept the FCC and Congress from taking this type of obvious step. Democratic leadership’s delays in getting the agency to full strength by seating Gigi Sohn have become intolerable — and Republican leadership’s blatant obstructionism of such a highly qualified nominee serves no one but the broadband and broadcast industries the FCC is supposed to regulate. But cynicism about the political path to restoring internet users’ rights can’t detract from the urgent need to do so. 

“Free Press Action thanks Senators Markey and Wyden and Representative Matsui for their leadership in putting those rights front and center. We also commend the nearly 60 senators and representatives who’ve already joined them to sponsor this bill at its introduction today.” 

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