Biden FCC Would Restore Net Neutrality Rules

Joe Biden has signaled that if he becomes President, his FCC will restore the net neutrality rules and FCC oversight authority the Republican FCC jettisoned in the Restoring Internet Freedom Order, as well as working to undo state laws blocking municipal broadband and invest even more in those projects.   

The FCC is an independent agency, but Biden would get to choose the chairman and have the majority, so it is likely the pendulum would indeed swing back toward the net neutrality rules pushed by President Barack Obama, Biden's former boss. 

That came among a raft of policy proposals, including on broadband, rolled out this week ahead of the Democratic National Convention and billed as coming from both Biden and the man he defeated for the nomination, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). 

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Under the broadband heading--Biden has already committed to a $20 billion investment in rural broadband--the proposals included that "Democrats will restore the FCC's clear authority to take strong enforcement action against broadband providers who violate net neutrality principles through blocking, throttling, paid prioritization, or other measures that create artificial scarcity and raise consumer prices for this vital service." 

That last part getting at other measures could either be the return of the general conduct standard that allowed the FCC to go beyond the bright-line rules against blocking, throttling and paid prioritization to get at other conduct it concluded would interfere with the virtuous internet cycle. ISPs were particularly unhappy with that vague standard. It could also refer to the usage-based pricing or bandwidth carve-outs for some video services that the FCC did not explicitly prohibit in the Open Internet Freedom order, which established the rules and classified internet access as a telecom service subject to common carrier access mandates (the Republicans reclassified it as an information service not subject to common carrier regs). 

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Biden also signaled he would not only fight state efforts that "block municipalities and rural co-ops from building publicly-owned broadband networks" but invested federal funds in muni broadband and for the Lifeline Universal Service Fund subsidy that goes to low-income residents "so children and families can fully participate in school, work, and life from their homes." 

"As millions of Americans have stayed at home to prevent the spread of the pandemic, it is plain to see that in the 21st century, the Internet is not optional: It is a vital tool for participating in the economy, and all Americans need access to high-speed, affordable broadband service," the campaign said.

The net neutrality rules have been careening from FCC to the courts for years, with all sides recognizing congressional action is needed to establish just what internet regulatory authority the FCC does or doesn't have. But the issue has been too hot for a deeply partisan Congress to handle. 

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.