President Biden has asked the FCC to restore Net Neutrality rules that were eliminated during the Trump administration – a recommendation that spurred USTelecom to pen an angry response on the part of its broadband provider members and drew criticism from other provider associations as well.
Biden’s recommendation came as part of a broad executive order focused on “promoting competition in the American economy.”
According to a section of the executive order titled “Internet,” big providers “can use their power to discriminatorily block or slow down online services.” Net Neutrality rules are described as requiring providers “to treat all internet services equally.”
USTelecom had a different take.
“To look back on the last 15 months and the explosion of streaming, zooming, distance learning and digital transformation – made possible by the world’s best performing and most resilient networks – and conclude that America has a net neutrality crisis is neither a credible nor productive policy debate,” USTelecom said in a blog post.
The executive order, according to the association, was “exhumed from some time capsule in an alternate universe.”
The Internet Innovation Alliance (IIA) – whose members include providers, suppliers and other stakeholders — had a more mildly worded but similar response to the Biden Net Neutrality recommendations.
“Net neutrality violations have been few and far between, because broadband providers would quickly lose customers by discriminatorily blocking or slowing down online services,” IIA said.
Even those who favor some level of Net Neutrality rules may have a problem with what the executive order recommends.
A key concern is that U.S. courts essentially have ruled that the FCC only has authority to impose Net Neutrality rules if internet service is categorized as a utility – and providers say that would open the service up to rate regulation and other regulations.
The Wireless Internet Service Providers Association (WISPA) had something to say about that.
“[A] call for the FCC to impose utility-style regulation on ISPs, if adopted, will limit consumer choice and competition,” WISPA said in a prepared statement.
WISPs “have no reason to violate net neutrality principles, nor do they,” WISPA wrote. “But heavy-handed utility regulation would undermine the ability of these small innovators to compete in the marketplace, encouraging consolidation to more easily meet compliance obligations. . . WISPs are there precisely due to the absence of utility regulation, not because of it.”
Another issue that arises if the FCC were to impose Net Neutrality rules is that those rules could easily be undone with the next change in administration. The industry already has seen Net Neutrality policies flip back and forth from one administration to the next.
To avoid that and avoid classifying broadband as a utility, some Net Neutrality advocates have said that the only solution is for federal legislators to adopt Net Neutrality legislation.
Executive orders, however, are aimed at federal agencies, which are more under presidential control than Congress is.
Unless someone else is appointed to the permanent FCC chair position, Acting FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel will have responsibility for implementing or not implementing Biden Net Neutrality recommendations.
She issued a statement that was supportive but non-committal.
“Our economy thrives on competition,” Rosenworcel said. “It is the reason the United States is home to some of the most dynamic companies in the world. I welcome this effort by the President to enhance competition in the American economy and in the nation’s communications sector.”
Other recommendations in the Internet section of the executive order include reviving the “broadband nutrition label” that required providers to report prices and subscription rates to the FCC, limiting excessive early termination fees and preventing ISPs from making deals with landlords that limit tenants’ choices.