Right now, Americans live in a country where the companies that control our access to the internet face little-to-no oversight. In most states, these companies can throttle your service—or that of, say, a fire department fighting the largest wildfire in state history. They can block a service they don’t like. In addition to charging you for access to the internet, they can charge services for access to you, driving up costs artificially. Making matters worse, most of us have little choice of home broadband providers, and many have only one—a perfect monopoly. We are badly in need of a federal response in the form of net neutrality protections. Thankfully, a new bill brings us that much closer.   

The Net Neutrality and Broadband Justice Act and its companion in the House of Representatives aim to put a stop to these abuses by reclassifying broadband internet services as telecommunication services under Title II of the Communications Act, thereby giving the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) the authority they need to reinstate net neutrality and lay down equitable rules of the road once more.

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While the bill is narrow, what it does is important: it prevents the FCC from reclassifying broadband internet services again in the future. The bill stops the back and forth we’ve experienced, with one FCC instating net neutrality rules, only for another to strip away those protections. By deciding with a congressional mandate that broadband internet services fall firmly under Title II, the American public will have clarity on what the FCC can do, what users’ protections are, and who they can go to when ISPs cause harm.

This bill also sends a clear signal to the FCC and the rest of Congress that it is time to reinstate net neutrality protections. By designating broadband internet services as common carriers under the Telecommunications Act, a necessity of modern life will finally be recognized as such under law. We live in a world where internet access is no longer a luxury “information service,” but rather a medium of communications as important as the telephone. And just as your telephone provider should not be able to decide which calls you can make and take, ISPs should not have control over the internet sites and apps you avail yourself of. Specifically, the FCC could reinstate net neutrality rules that forbid blocking or throttling internet traffic selectively, and stop ISPs from charging websites to deliver their data faster (paid prioritization) to users. Net neutrality is vital because, although nearly 80% of Americans view broadband access to be as important as water and electricity, many Americans do not have a choice of high-speed internet provider. Americans pay more for worse internet than those in almost any other similarly-situated nation.

A return to net neutrality will help build competition to provide the fast, reliable, accessible service every American deserves to truly participate in our increasingly digital economy and society. And competition will incentivize today’s monopolistic ISPs to stop using the profits we pay them to buy content, and instead invest to provide better services beyond what would be decreed via net neutrality and Title II.

While this bill is a good step, the FCC still is not fully staffed, meaning that even with the authority granted by this new law, new rules would still be stalled. Giving the FCC the power to set smart rules for ISPs won’t matter if they are unable to exercise that power.  Without Gigi Sohn’s confirmation as the fifth FCC commissioner, the FCC will  not have the votes to pass net neutrality rules. In fact, without a fifth commissioner, the commission can’t affirmatively enforce any of the consumer protections under Title II.

We urge Congress to pass the Net Neutrality and Broadband Justice Act, improving the quality of America’s broadband services, and to fully staff the FCC by confirming Gigi Sohn.

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