FCC Should Restore Obama-Era Net Neutrality Rules, Incompas Urges

The Federal Communications Commission should restore the Obama-era net neutrality rules, the industry trade group Incompas urges in a new petition to the agency.

Broadband providers “have the incentive and ability to harm competition and consumers as they have done in the past and will continue to do in the future,” unless the FCC restores the prior rules, Incompas argues in its 26-page filing.

The Obama-era FCC issued an order classifying broadband as a utility service, regulated under Title II of the Communications Act, and imposing some common carrier rules on providers -- including prohibitions on blocking and throttling traffic, and on charging higher fees for prioritized delivery.

The FCC approved that order in 2015, but voted to repeal it two years later, after a change in administration.

That repeal, known as the “Restoring Internet Freedom Order,” faced a court challenge by a coalition including Mozilla, net neutrality proponents and consumer advocacy groups.

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In 2019, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals court largely upheld the revocation, but directed the agency to consider the impact of the repeal on three issues -- public safety, the Lifeline program (which subsidizes broadband) and regulations regarding utility poles.

The FCC voted 3-2 last year to affirm the repeal, stating it “promotes public safety, facilitates broadband infrastructure deployment by internet service providers, and allows the FCC to continue to provide Lifeline support for broadband internet access service.”

The agency said at the time that the Restoring Internet Freedom order was “unlikely” to harm public safety, and that any harm that could result would be “minimal.”

Incompas -- whose members include Google, Netflix and Amazon -- now argues that the FCC should have repudiated the Restoring Internet Freedom order last year, and restored the Obama-era rules.

“The FCC has a fundamental obligation to promote and protect public safety, and this includes ensuring that emergency situations are prevented, mitigated, and/or handled immediately,” the group writes in papers filed Thursday.

Incompas adds that without the prior net neutrality rules, the FCC won't be able “to deal with public safety issues before or as they arise.”

The group also says the FCC didn't adequately consider the impact of the revocation on companies' ability to access utility poles.

The FCC has voted along partisan lines on net neutrality, with the agency's Democrats supporting the regulations and the Republicans opposing them.

Net neutrality advocates say the rules are necessary to prevent broadband providers from engaging in censorship, and from harming competitors. But former FCC Chairman Ajit Pai argued the former regulations were too "heavy handed," and depressed investment.

President Joe Biden ran on a platform that included restoring net neutrality, and acting FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel has repeatedly voted in favor of the Obama-era rules.

After Biden's election, net neutrality advocates vowed to press the agency to restore the open internet rules.

But the FCC currently only has four members -- two Democrats and two Republicans -- and is unlikely to move forward until a fifth member joins the agency.

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