Battle Lines Being Drawn For Next Net Neutrality Fight
Wondering when the new presidential administration is going to do something about burdensome broadband fees, data capping and favoritism in access to select services? Don’t hold your breath.
Anyone hoping the Biden Administration’s FCC soon will rollback net neutrality measures in the climate of COVID-19 might be interested to learn that House Republicans and even some Democrats are girding to ensure stringent new federal Title II reclassification and price regulation isn’t the final result.
House Commerce Committee Republicans, led by Committee Republican Leader Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Communications and Technology Subcommittee Republican Leader Bob Latta, published a letter recently sent to acting FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel warning against imposing net neutrality regulations that could result in what they claim would be some subscribers losing their internet offerings.
The letter followed the recent enforcement of California’s new net neutrality law and reports that Rosenworcel and FCC Democrats might be moving to consider rolling back measures from the Trump era, which some feel have hampered competition and raised fees, by re-establishing net neutrality controls. Some Internet Service Providers fear such action could lead to the FCC treating them as Title II utilities, while limiting fees they can charge and barring practices like data caps.
On the heels of the enforcement of California’s new regulations, two Internet providers reportedly warned the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) the law would force them to end arrangements with wireless carriers that enable veterans to access a free, mobile telehealth app called VA Video Connect.
That’s because the California state law prevents zero-rating of Internet applications under certain circumstances that the measure does not make particularly clear, according to a posting Sunday from the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society. The organization advocates for a free, open and affordable Internet for all and said it is concerned with heavy handed regulatory threats that would subject violators to state Attorneys General enforcement, private rights of action and potential fines.
Zero-rating is the practice of providing Internet access without financial cost under certain conditions, such as by permitting access to only certain websites or by subsidizing the service with advertising or by exempting certain websites from the data allowance.
The Benton Institute’s mission statement says it believes that “communications policy—rooted in the values of access, equity, and diversity—has the power to deliver new opportunities and strengthen communities to bridge our divides.”
“We cannot risk losing lifesaving programs like VA Video Connect by imposing heavy-handed regulations under Title II of the Communications Act. This is why we continue to support pro-consumer, light-touch neutrality protections that preserve a highly competitive market, encourage investment and innovation, and limit the unintended consequences we now see as a result of California’s law,” according to the Institute’s stated position on the issue.
Similarly, the letter from House Republicans told Rosenworcel: “[W]e urge you not to impose stringent net neutrality regulations that may result in Americans losing their internet services.”
Meanwhile, Zero rating opponents Free Press blasted the Republican effort saying it was “premature” and “cynically opportunistic.” It called the effort an attempt to “scare the Biden FCC from reinstating the federal rules and reclassifying broadband as a telecommunications service — which common sense dictates it is.”
Free Press has been critical of FCC commissioner Brendan Carr for using “veterans as political pawns,” in an “effort designed to obscure what’s really happening here.”
Free Press believes “Net Neutrality keeps the internet free and open — enabling anyone to share and access information of their choosing without interference from companies like AT&T, Comcast and Verizon.”
The Free Press criticized Rosenworcel for supporting the Biden Justice Department in withdrawing a Trump Administration DOJ’s lawsuit to block the California law.
“When the FCC, over my objection, rolled back its net neutrality policies, states like California sought to fill the void with their own laws. By taking this step, Washington is listening to the American people, who overwhelmingly support an open internet, and is charting a course to once again make net neutrality the law of the land,” she said at the time.
According to a report by Multichannel News, Free Press has said, “there was no void to fill, as oversight by the Federal Trade Commission, DOJ, and state attorneys general ensured that ISPs would fulfill their promises not to block or throttle traffic or otherwise engage in anti-competitive conduct.”
President Biden must still pick a new FCC commissioner to fill a vacated seat and break a potential 2-2 Democrat/Republican standoff. He must also name a new permanent FCC chair.
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By Greg Tarr
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