Internet Regulation Under a Democrat FCC
Assuming a Joe Biden presidency, how might broadband regulation change under a Democrat-controlled FCC? The answer can probably be summarized in two words: Net Neutrality.
In 2015, after many years of light touch, Title I regulation as Information Service Providers, broadband carriers were subjected to Title II regulation as Telecommunications Carriers. The Thomas Wheeler FCC, under President Obama, readily adopted this more stringent regulatory classification. Then, in 2017, the Republican Commission of Chairman Ajit Pai – amidst a huge amount of dissent and controversy — changed broadband carrier regulation back to Title I.
Now, it appears that, in coming years, internet regulation will become a virtual ping pong ball, going back and forth each time the presidency changes parties. Light touch Title I when Republicans are in control, and a heavier, more stringent Title II regime under Democrat leadership. While certainly not an ideal situation, this seems to be just one more outcome of an increasingly wide ideological divide between our political parties.
With Title II, certain rules of Net Neutrality – among them, those that prohibit broadband giants such as AT&T, Comcast, Charter and Verizon from blocking or throttling internet traffic or prioritizing certain traffic for payment – will in all probability be reinstated. These provisions are not seen as overly punitive or controversial.
More troublesome to many are those Net Neutrality principles that, if implemented, would allow unbundling, tariffing, rate regulation and cost accounting rules to take effect. Most analysts believe that, at the least, neither forced unbundling nor rate regulation will become realities under a Democrat Commission, based on policies and statements from the Wheeler days. But who can really predict this with any certainty in the turbulent times of 2020?
The biggest positive for RLECs in all of this may be stronger FCC policies and increased funding to close the Digital Divide between rural and urban/suburban America. Democrats at the FCC and in Congress seem to have a stronger and clearer voice for bringing high speed internet to remote, rural, tribal and agrarian Americans.