The FCC plans to restore Obama-era net neutrality rules

It may take several months until the rules are back in place, and legal challenges may lie ahead.

Alessandro Bianchi / reuters

The Federal Communications Commission plans to reinstate net neutrality protections that were nixed in 2018 during the Trump administration. Restoring those Obama-era rules has been on President Joe Biden's agenda for years, but a deadlocked FCC has prevented that from happening during his time in the White House so far. Now, one day after Anna Gomez was sworn in as the third Democratic member on the FCC's five-person panel, the agency is pushing forward with an attempt to bring back net neutrality regulations.

When net neutrality rules are enforced, internet service providers are not allowed to block or give preference to any content. They can't throttle access to specific websites or charge the likes of streaming services for faster service. They must provide users with access to every site, content and app at the same speeds and conditions. Advocates tout net neutrality protections as the foundation of an open and equitable internet.

FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel, a long-term supporter of net neutrality rules, announced a plan to restore the protections on Tuesday. "This afternoon, I'm sharing with my colleagues a rulemaking that proposes to reinstate net neutrality," Rosenworcel said at an event at the National Press Club. "We will need to develop an updated record to identify the best way to restore these policies and have a uniform national open internet standard."

The aim is to "largely return to the successful rules" that the FCC adopted in 2015 when President Barack Obama was in office. The proposal aims to reclassify both fixed and mobile broadband as an essential communications service under Title II of the Communications Act, akin to water, power and phone services.

"The Chairwoman is proposing the FCC take the first procedural steps toward reaffirming rules that would treat broadband internet service as an essential service for American life," the FCC said. "As work, healthcare, education, commerce, and so much more have moved online, no American household or business should need to function without reliable internet service."

Rosenworcel noted that this is a first step in the process of reviving net neutrality. It will take quite some time until the previous rules are restored, as Bloomberg notes. The FCC commissioners will vote on the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking at their next monthly meeting on October 19.

If, as seems likely, the agency votes in favor, it will start a new rulemaking and then seek public comments on the proposal. After reviewing the comments, Rosenworcel will decide how to move forward. In all likelihood, the commissioners will then vote on whether to adopt the final rules. While the push to restore net neutrality rules may prove successful, the implementation could still be delayed by legal challenges.

"For everyone, everywhere, to enjoy the full benefits of the internet age, internet access should be more than just accessible and affordable," Rosenworcel said. "The internet needs to be open." She added that repealing net neutrality protections "put the FCC on the wrong side of history, the wrong side of the law and the wrong side of the American public."