On December 14, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in a 3-2 vote rolled back the Obama Administration’s 2015 net neutrality protections, which prohibited Internet service providers (ISPs) from prioritizing, slowing or blocking online content.
The new plan would only require ISPs to be transparent about those practices, leaving the market to respond and allowing consumers to use the platforms, choose a provider and “buy the service plan that’s best for them.” Supporters of the FCC action hold that “light-touch” regulatory approach will create certainty in the market and encourage broadband investment.
The apartment industry and its residents depend on reliable broadband service for community amenities, marketing, leasing, revenue management, and more. NMHC/NAA continue to closely monitor and analyze the issue for potential implications for the multifamily industry.
Content providers like Amazon, Facebook, Netflix and Google, consumer groups, Congressional Democrats and some legal experts say that ISPs will advantage their own content and offer paid priority access to a “fast lane,” creating a system where companies that can’t afford to pay will simply pass along those costs to consumers and consumers’ access to content will become more limited.
Specifically, the Republican-led Commission ordered ISPs to disclose their activities, and shifted enforcement against unfair, deceptive, and anticompetitive practices to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Critics argue, however, that the FTC lacks appropriate authority or expertise to regulate in this area. The most controversial component of the FCC’s vote is restoring broadband’s classification as an “information service” under Title I of the Communications Act, to prevent “utility-like” oversight, and incentivize broadband growth. Supporters of the Obama-era FCC rules argued in favor of a 2015 reclassification of broadband under Title II of the Act to comply with relevant court rulings.
Responding to the FCC’s vote, in an attempt to add legislative backing to the new rules, House Education and Commerce Chair Greg Walden (R-OR) and House Commerce and Technology Subcommittee Chair Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) announced plans to introduce legislation to codify certain “light touch” protections under Title I authority. In the Senate, Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune (R-SD) and Democratic member Brian Schatz (D-HI) have also indicated interest in working together to find a legislative compromise to achieve similar results.
Senate Democrats have stated they’re considering legislation under the Congressional Review Act to challenge the FCC’s recent move, and some state attorneys general have announced plans to address the issue through litigation.