Net Neutrality Restored as FCC Votes to Regulate Internet Providers

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- The Federal Trade Commission on Thursday voted to restore "net neutrality" rules that prevent broadband internet providers such as Comcast and Verizon from favoring some sites and apps over others.

The move effectively reinstates a net neutrality order the commission first issued in 2015 during the Obama administration. In 2017, under then-President Donald Trump, the FCC repealed those rules.

The measure passed Thursday on a 3-2 vote split along party lines, with Democratic commissioners in favor and Republicans opposed.

Net neutrality effectively requires providers of internet service to treat all traffic equally, eliminating any incentive they might face to favor business partners or to hobble competitors. The public interest group Public Knowledge describes net neutrality as "the principle that the company that connects you to the internet does not get to control what you do on the internet."

The rules, for instance, ban practices that throttle or block certain sites or apps, or that reserve higher speeds for the services or customers willing to pay more for them.

"In our post-pandemic world, we know that broadband is a necessity, not a luxury," FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said in a statement ahead of the vote.

While it's been almost seven years since the FCC killed the previous net neutrality rules, their reinstatement isn't expected to noticeably change users' online experience. Public Knowledge legal director John Bergmayer credits that to several states having passed their own net neutrality measures prior to 2015, all of which remained in force when the FCC reversed course two years later following Trump's election.

"Some of the absolute worst excesses from (internet providers) were kept in check by state level oversight," Bergmayer said.

States like California went even further than the FCC did -- for instance, by banning a practice called "zero rating." That's where, for instance, a mobile provider might strike a business deal to steer users toward a particular streaming service by zeroing out any related data charges. Other states with strong net neutrality rules include Colorado, Maine, Oregon, Vermont and Washington, according to Bergmayer.

The telecommunications industry opposed the reintroduction of the federal rules, as it has before, declaring them an example of unnecessary government interference in business decisions.