Broadband Service Requires FCC Oversight, Nominee Tells Senate

Federal Communications Commission nominee Anna Gomez left little doubt on Thursday that if confirmed, she would vote in favor of classifying broadband as a utility service -- a move that would enable the agency to prohibit carriers from blocking or throttling web traffic.

Testifying before the Senate Commerce Committee, Gomez told lawmakers that internet access was too essential to remain unregulated.

“I would be supportive to reclassification to Title II,” Gomez told lawmakers.

Internet services are “too important, too central to our lives and our economy, not to have effective oversight,” Gomez said.

“Title II gives the strongest oversight to the FCC over the service,” she added.

Broadband is currently considered a Title I information service -- meaning it is largely unregulated.

Title II classification, by contrast, would allow the FCC to impose common-carrier regulations -- including ones that could prohibit access providers from censoring traffic. 

FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel has consistently expressed support for restoring the Obama-era net neutrality rules, which prohibited carriers from blocking or throttling traffic, and from charging higher fees for prioritized delivery. The Obama-era rules were repealed during the Trump administration, when the FCC was led by Ajit Pai.

Commissioner Geoffrey Starks, who is also up for reappointment, has likewise argued in favor of neutrality regulations.

Pai contended that the rules depressed investment -- a claim disputed by consumer advocates.

Net neutrality proponents say those regulations are needed to prevent broadband providers from limiting people's ability to access streaming video, search engines and other online services and content.

President Joe Biden, himself a net-neutrality supporter, in 2021 signed an executive order that encouraged the FCC to restore the regulations.

“Big providers can use their power to discriminatorily block or slow down online services,” the White House stated at the time.

But the FCC has been unable to move forward with net neutrality -- or other politically charged policies -- because the agency has been deadlocked with two Democrats and two Republicans for nearly the entirety of Biden's presidency.

If Gomez is confirmed (and Starks is reconfirmed), the FCC will be positioned to advance net neutrality as well as other potentially controversial policies -- including those surrounding privacy.

Just last week, Rosenworcel said the agency is launching a new task force that will examine privacy issues, including how mobile carriers handle customers' location data.

She also said she wants to finalize an order imposing $200 million in fines against mobile carriers that allegedly sold customers' location data to aggregators and other third parties.

While the fines were proposed in February of 2020, the agency has been unable to proceed due to partisan deadlock, according to The Wall Street Journal.

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