from the here-we-go-again dept
Hey, remember when a bunch of unpopular broadband monopolies convinced a corrupt reality TV star to dismantle most oversight of their very broken industry? And remember how to accomplish this companies like AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast spread endless lies about what was actually happening, going so far as to use fake and even dead people to try and pretend the idea was broadly popular?
Anyway, now that the FCC finally has a fifth Commissioner and Democrats finally have a voting majority after almost seven years of lobbyist-fueled bullshit, reports are emerging that indicate the agency is preparing to finally restore net neutrality rules. The FCC clearly leaked word to Bloomberg that the FCC will vote to begin the process of restoring net neutrality rules at an October 19 agency meeting:
“Remarks by Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel will center on the FCC’s role in net neutrality, two people briefed on the topic said, pointing toward a possible renewed fight over US regulations of broadband providers. Rosenworcel is expected to announce plans to restore the rules, according to two of the people, who asked not to be identified because the details aren’t yet public.”
As noted previously, what those rules will look like matters. A lot. Given this FCC’s lack of backbone, I had concerns that the agency would propose something that very much looks like real net neutrality, but doesn’t fully include the Title II reclassification required to ensure the FCC can actually enforce it. Something designed with ample industry input to pre-empt tougher, state level rules.
But in comments made before the National Press Club, FCC boss Jessica Rosenworcel hinted that the restoration of net neutrality will involve a restoration of the agency’s Title II authority under the Communications Act. A separate fact sheet circulated by the FCC also states that restoring the agency’s Title II authority will be key:
“The proposed rules would return fixed and mobile broadband service to its status as an essential “telecommunications” service.”
Rosenworcel noted that restoring the agency’s authority under Title II won’t just aid in the enforcement of net neutrality, but will also help the agency’s quest to impose stricter cybersecurity requirements on network operators. Rosenworcel also stated the FCC’s actual order will be made publicly available on Thursday.
Why does any of this matter? The Trump-era net neutrality repeal not only killed net neutrality rules, it actively gutted the FCC’s consumer protection authority over broadband giants. The Trump repeal even tried to ban states from being able to protect broadband consumers. The courts have frowned upon that last point, noting the FCC can’t abdicate its consumer protection authority then tell states what to do.
I routinely see misinformed folks try to claim that net neutrality must not have mattered because the internet didn’t fall apart post repeal, but that’s ignorant gibberish. A growing roster of state net neutrality rules have helped keep ISPs from implementing truly stupid ideas. They don’t want to implement some anti-competitive idea that runs afoul of regulators across the entire west coast.
The actual rules aside, either you want predatory giants like AT&T and Comcast to see some type of real oversight, or you don’t. The attack on net neutrality was really part of a decades-long assault on the FCC and all meaningful telecom consumer protection authority. Not some of it, all of it.
That kind of mindless fealty to monopoly power doesn’t benefit innovation, competition, or consumers, and folks that claim otherwise are lying to you.
There’s a reason U.S. broadband is slow, patchy, and expensive: unchecked monopoly power and regulatory capture (and the corruption that enables it). The one-two punch of limited competition and little to no meaningful government oversight have proven utterly corrosive to quality, affordable broadband. Contrary to claims by the telecom industry, it’s not something that’s debatable.
The telecom lobby is already seeding the press with bullshit about net neutrality before consumer groups can even fire up their messaging machines. Mainstream news outlets are already giving sterile historical primers on net neutrality that weirdly exclude most of the telecom industry’s bad behavior, leading credence to long-debunked industry claims (like the false claim net neutrality hurt industry investment)
It’s all going to get very stupid. Again.
As we once again descend down this rabbit hole I think it’s important to remember that the real problem is unchecked telecom monopoly power. If you’re opposed to attacking monopoly power directly or less directly (net neutrality), what’s your solution? If it involves handcuffing government regulators in the belief that AT&T and Comcast will suddenly become magically innovative, or waiting for “free market competition” to magically fall from the sky without some kind of real reform, you’re part of the problem.
To be clear: neither party has a great track record of standing up to concentrated telecom monopoly power. These are companies now bone grafted to our intelligence gathering and first responder networks, and when genuine reformers attempt to stand up to them it’s usually politically painful. The current Rosenworcel FCC generally avoids making telecom giants mad; so hopefully there are no strange loopholes or caveats included in the final order to appease Comcast, AT&T, Verizon and friends.