President Joe Biden this summer signed an executive order restoring several internet consumer protections (a.k.a. “net neutrality” provisions) that were overturned by the Trump administration. But the order awaits a vote by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which is still missing a fifth commissioner after Ajit Pai stepped down in January.
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The Executive Order on Promoting Competition in the American Economy, signed in July, would take a stand against large broadband providers by restoring net neutrality. It also contains provisions that would:
- End early termination fees for consumers who switch broadband providers before their contract expires
- Require ISPs to regularly report their prices to the commission
- Institute a “nutrition label” for ISPs. Such labeling standardizes the format for providers to list their price and data allowances, making it easy for consumers to read and understand, similar to a nutrition label on food packaging.
- Put an end to ISP deals with multi-unit properties. These partnerships force tenants into contracts with one particular provider and eliminates consumer choice.
Net neutrality is the idea that internet service providers should treat all internet communications equally, meaning that they can’t prioritize some data and discriminate against others. For example, Comcast shouldn’t be able to stop or slow consumers from watching Netflix to encourage you to keep your cable service.
CUB and other consumer advocates supported the historic net neutrality protections approved by the FCC in 2015, arguing that maintaining an equal internet playing field is necessary to maintain fair prices and promote competition and innovation.
“For example, had internet providers blocked or severely limited video streaming in the mid-2000s, we might not have Netflix or YouTube today,” reporter Klint Finley wrote for Wired.
In 2017, the FCC, under Pai’s leadership, voted to repeal net neutrality protections. Pai stepped down in January, and the FCC now has the chance to restore internet consumer protections. Current acting FCC chair Jessica Rosenworcel said in a statement that she welcomes the Biden administration’s effort to “enhance competition in the American economy and in the nation’s communications sector.”
But none of this can happen until President Biden nominates a fifth commissioner, who then must be confirmed by the Senate. After Pai’s departure, the remaining four members are deadlocked along party lines — there’s no tie-breaking vote.
“The executive order is important, but the processes and personnel to actually move ahead on these priorities are not in place yet… the agency needs a fifth commissioner to fully function,” said Matt Wood, vice president of policy and general counsel for Free Press.