1 Year On: FCC Deadlock Persists as Network Neutrality Hangs in Balance

It seemed like a slam dunk to restore neutrality in the US, but one year on and America is still waiting.

It was the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) decision that shocked the world. In 2017, the Ajit Pai FCC repealed network neutrality, demolishing a key pillar to the free and open Internet. Without network neutrality, ISPs are free to basically control who are winners and who are losers online. They would theoretically charge customers more if they use a website that didn’t give their explicit blessing. Alternatively, ISPs can also slow or even block packets to competing sites and services to degrade the performance of those services and “encourage” users to use their services instead.

It sent a clear signal that online innovation and the free market on the Internet was no longer welcome in America. It was the land where ISP’s (Internet Service Providers) ruled all including what goes on on the Internet.

Yet, the Internet was able to carry on. Why was that? The answer is actually very simple: litigation and state rights. In response to the incredibly destructive decision, California stepped in and pushed through and passed network neutrality rules of their own. This didn’t sit well with ISPs who were hoping to get much more monopolistic control over the US Internet. In response, they filed a lawsuit to stop network neutrality in California.

As the court case dragged on, the big US ISP’s called for the court to allow ISPs to skirt network neutrality rules while the case moved forward. That request was ultimately denied. Because of that critical decision, the US was able to continue to enjoy network neutrality to this day. The court case continues to drag on and the ISPs can only sit back and let network neutrality continue to happen.

Meanwhile, on the political front, with Republican’s thankfully losing so much control over the political side of things, US President, Joe Biden, nominated Jessica Rosenworcel to the FCC nearly a whole year ago. The move was seen by many as a step in the right direction to getting network neutrality properly restored in the US. She replaced the much reviled Ajit Pai in the process. What’s more is that, in July, Biden signed an executive order to restore network neutrality in July of last year.

Unfortunately, the deadlock persisted. As of now, the FCC is still in a 2 vs 2 deadlock with Republican’s still holding firm on their position to keep network neutrality dead and kill off the free market in the process. As a result, Biden needs to nominate one more Democrat commissioner to fill the last vacancy and finally put an end to this crisis. So, advocates waited and waited and waited some more.

Now, we are one year into the mandate and advocates for the free and open Internet are still waiting. Recently, we saw a report that said that Biden has, again, put forth a nominee for the commissioners position. From radio-online:

President Joe Biden renominated Democrat Gigi Sohn to serve on the Federal Communications Commission, despite Republican resistance to advance her nomination during the last congressional session, reports Bloomberg Law. Sohn’s confirmation would give the FCC a Democratic majority. GOP senators criticized Sohn’s past remarks denouncing conservative media outlets and called on the President to withdraw her nomination.

“After meeting with Gigi Sohn and questioning her at her confirmation hearing, I am confident that she understands the internet connectivity challenges facing communities in Montana and across rural America,” said Senator Jon Tester (D-MT) in a statement. “I intend to vote for her nomination because it’s critically important we have a fully functioning FCC, and I will hold her accountable to her commitment to increase access to high-speed internet that will lower costs for Montana families, create good-paying jobs, and grow the economy.”

While the efforts are still ongoing, the time window to safely restore network neutrality continues to close more and more. Midterm elections are scheduled for November 8, 2022. Some think that there is a very real possibility that at least one major house will fall to the Republican’s during those midterm elections as well. Should that happen, then it would only increase how difficult it would be to restore network neutrality. So, for many, getting Sohn into that vacancy sooner rather than later is a priority. The sooner Sohn is in the FCC, the better the chance network neutrality can finally be restored.

Obviously, one year on, this wasn’t the position advocates were hoping to be on this file. Ideally, network neutrality would have been restored and finally put an end to this resurgence of a debate. American’s, after all, are depending on network neutrality to be restored and many American’s do support network neutrality in the first place. At this point, it is a question of finally getting this important item on that to-do list done. For now, American’s will continue waiting and hoping.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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