Net neutrality rules to be restored in US agency vote

FILE PHOTO: Signage is seen at the headquarters of the Federal Communications Commission in Washington, D.C., U.S., August 29, 2020. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly/File Photo

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The U.S. Federal Communications Commission will vote Thursday to reinstate landmark net neutrality rules and assume new regulatory oversight of broadband internet rescinded under former President Donald Trump.

The commission voted 3-2 in October along party lines to advance the proposal to reinstate open internet rules adopted in 2015 and re-establish the commission's authority over broadband internet.

The FCC will vote to give final approval Thursday. It began debating the net neutrality item at 11 a.m. ET and a vote is expected within an hour.

Net neutrality refers to the principle that internet service providers should enable access to all content and applications regardless of the source, and without favoring or blocking particular products or websites.

"It is time to have broadband oversight, national net neutrality rules and policies that ensure the internet is fast, open, and fair," said FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel.

Rosenworcel says reclassifying broadband is critical to boost the FCC's authority to "direct foreign-owned companies deemed to be national security threats to discontinue any domestic or international broadband services."

She noted the FCC has taken similar actions against Chinese telecom companies using existing authority.

Reinstating the rules has been a priority for President Joe Biden, who signed a July 2021 executive order encouraging the FCC to reinstate net neutrality rules adopted under Democratic President Barack Obama.

Democrats were stymied for nearly three years because they did not take majority control of the five-member FCC until October.

Under Trump, the FCC had argued the net neutrality rules were unnecessary, blocked innovation and resulted in a decline in network investment by internet service providers, a contention disputed by Democrats.

A group of Republican lawmakers including House Energy and Commerce Committee chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Senator Ted Cruz called the plan "an illegal power grab that would expose the broadband industry to an oppressive regulatory regime" giving the agency and states power to impose rate regulation, unbundling obligations and broadband taxing authority.

The Computer & Communications Industry Association, whose members include, Apple, Alphabet and Meta Platforms, back net neutrality, arguing the rules "must be reinstated to preserve open access to the internet".

USTelecom, whose members include AT&T, Verizon and others, called reinstating net neutrality "entirely counterproductive, unnecessary, and an anti-consumer regulatory distraction".

Despite the 2017 decision to withdraw the requirement at the federal level, a dozen states now have net neutrality laws or regulations in place. Industry groups abandoned legal challenges to those state requirements in May 2022.

(Reporting by David ShepardsonEditing by William Maclean and Peter Graff)

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