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FCC's Rosenworcel talks net neutrality after Biden executive order

Just days after U.S. President Joe Biden cemented his support for net neutrality in a sweeping executive order, Federal Communications Commission Acting Chair Jessica Rosenworcel reaffirmed her commitment to reinstating protections for internet users.

In a press call held after the FCC's July 13 open commission meeting, Rosenworcel said she has long been a supporter of the internet regulation law but did not have plans as of yet to reimplement it.

Biden's executive order asked the FCC to tackle competition and price transparency in the broadband landscape, and encouraged the agency to restore net neutrality protections.

"I am grateful that the president supports net neutrality," Rosenworcel said July 13. "I think it's an important competition and consumer protection issue."

Experts told S&P Global Market Intelligence that Biden will have to fill the 2-2 commission's open seat with a Democrat and get that person confirmed by the Senate before the FCC can restore net neutrality protections. The White House has yet to name a nominee for the role.

Rosenworcel on the press call said the commission's current composition of two Republicans and two Democrats allows the issue to be discussed, but a complete commission will give the agency "other options" for reinstating the law.

She also said that the FCC has had "informal conversations" with people in the White House and on Capitol Hill to address other components outlined in the executive order, though she did not elaborate further on what has been discussed.

Republican Commissioner Nathan Simington in a prepared statement responding to Biden's executive order said he thought net neutrality protections would best be addressed by Congress. When asked by S&P Global Market Intelligence if waiting for a Congressional net neutrality bill would be feasible, Rosenworcel said that consumers would benefit from making net neutrality the law of the land and that "we should find a way" to restore such protections.

In 2015, a Democratic-led FCC passed an order that classified broadband as a Title II telecommunications service, giving the agency more regulatory authority over broadband service providers such as Comcast Corp., Verizon Communications Inc., AT&T Inc. and Charter Communications Inc. Because of the Title II classification, the FCC had enough regulatory authority under the law to impose three bright-line net neutrality rules that prohibited broadband service providers from blocking or throttling legal internet traffic or prioritizing certain traffic for payment.

In 2018, under Republican leadership, the FCC repealed the 2015 order, classifying broadband as a Title I information service and eliminating the FCC's authority to enforce net neutrality protections. The FCC has a transparency rule that requires internet service providers to disclose publicly when traffic is blocked, throttled or prioritized.

The Title II classification is controversial and unpopular among many in the broadband industry because it not only gives the FCC the regulatory authority to impose net neutrality rules, but it also technically enables the agency to regulate broadband rates. Under former President Barack Obama, the FCC — including Rosenworcel — said the agency would forbear from controlling prices.

Simington said if Congress passed a net neutrality bill, it could enact online protections without imposing a Title II classification on broadband providers.