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US FCC chair proposes to restore net neutrality rules

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-U.S. Federal Communications Commission chair Jessica Rosenworcel on Tuesday said she would move quickly to reinstate landmark net neutrality rules rescinded under former President Donald Trump.

Rosenworcel is asking her colleagues to take an initial vote on Oct. 19 on the proposal to largely reinstate open internet rules adopted in 2015 under then-President Barack Obama.

The move comes after Democrats took majority control of the five-member FCC on Monday for the first time since President Joe Biden took office in January 2021.

The FCC voted in 2017 to reverse the rules that barred internet service providers from blocking or throttling traffic, or offering paid fast lanes, also known as paid prioritization. Days before the 2020 presidential election, the FCC voted to maintain the reversal.

Rosenworcel said on Tuesday the 2018 repeal “put the agency on the wrong side of history, the wrong side of the law, and the wrong side of the public… today we begin a process to make this right.”

She said restoring net neutrality would separately “bolster our authority to require internet service providers to address internet outages” and she denied the FCC would seek to impose rate regulations with expanded authority.

She said the repeal “was problematic not only because it wiped away enforceable, bright-line rules to prevent blocking, throttling, and paid prioritization” and it also “had a lot of downstream consequences.”

She said the FCC has legal authority to strip away authorization to provide service in the U.S. from state-affiliated companies on national security grounds but because of the repeal “that authority does not cover broadband. This is a national security loophole that needs to be addressed.”

The proposal largely mirrors the 2015 net neutrality rules but would make a change to allow the FCC to block authorization of companies that might be controlled by foreign adversaries on national security grounds, an FCC official said.

In 2022, a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 3-0 that the 2017 decision by the FCC to reverse federal net neutrality protections could not bar state action, rejecting a challenge from telecom and broad industry groups to block California’s net neutrality law.

About 12 states now have net neutrality laws or regulations. Industry groups abandoned further legal challenges in May 2022.

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