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democrats introduce bill to reinstate net neutrality rules

(Photo: Jason Richard/Unsplash)New legislation could bring back Obama-era net neutrality rules, as well as give ​​the ​​Federal Communications Commission (FCC) more authority over broadband services. 

Senators Edward Markey and Ron Wyden introduced the bill Thursday alongside Representative Doris Matsui. Titled the Net Neutrality and Broadband Justice Act, the bill promises to reinstate net neutrality rules originally implemented by the FCC toward the end of Obama’s second term. It would do so in part by amending the Communications Act of 1934 to classify broadband as a telecommunications service.

The aforementioned Obama-era rules prohibited broadband service providers from blocking or throttling content, implementing paid prioritization of certain content, or harming “edge providers” like Google or Netflix. They also required providers to maintain a certain level of transparency in regards to how they manage their networks, as well as conduct “reasonable network management” in such a way that doesn’t prioritize the provider’s commercial interests. As one can imagine, companies like Verizon and Comcast didn’t love these rules, despite a large majority of Americans favoring them. Corporate interests eventually won: within just a couple years, Congress repealed the rules. It’s been up to individual for-profit providers to maintain a sense of fairness and transparency ever since. 

democrats introduce bill to reinstate net neutrality rules

Service providers weren’t exactly thrilled about the 2015 net neutrality rules—and they’re probably not thrilled about the Net Neutrality and Broadband Justice Act, either. (Photo: Mika Baumeister/Unsplash)

As Markey’s statement regarding the Net Neutrality and Broadband Justice Act points out, a lot has changed since then. “The COVID-19 pandemic has made clear the present need to promote an accessible and just broadband future, with students having spent upwards of two years studying online, entrepreneurs creating new businesses through remote work, and patients receiving the care they need through telemedicine services,” the statement reads. Americans rely on the internet now more than ever, meaning the consequences of potential blocking and throttling from providers have never been more severe. As Markey himself puts it, “Broadband is not a luxury. It is essential.” (One thing, it’s worth noting, has not changed: a majority of Americans still support net neutrality and would like it reinstated.) 

Meanwhile, classifying broadband as a telecommunications service would in turn allow the FCC more authority over providers. This would mean promoting competition, policing potential abuses, and updating Universal Service Fund programs to provide broadband to schools, libraries, and lower-income Americans. 

Many expected the Biden administration to resolve this issue by filling the FCC’s fifth seat, thus settling the agency’s even partisan split and facilitating a transition into a new set of internet rules. But the Senate has yet to confirm Biden’s pick, and midterm elections are quickly approaching. Hence the introduction of the Net Neutrality and Broadband Justice Act, though it, too, is expected to face an uphill battle in the Senate. 

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