Net neutrality could make a big comeback.
The Biden administration revealed a new executive order aimed at reducing anticompetitive behavior throughout several industries, including a requirement compelling the restoration of telecom oversight that was taken down amid Trump’s administration, according to a fact sheet circulated by White House staff.
This could take substantial powers away from Big Tech and Big Telecom, encouraging greater regulation and enforcement against the two industries, while restoring net neutrality that the Trump administration’s FCC brought down in 2017.
Net neutrality was initially repealed in 2017 under Trump
Experts expect the new executive order to be signed Friday, and it includes more than 70 initiatives designed to promote competition in economic areas, the concentration of technology in which Biden has become increasingly concerned. Some primary means of reducing the power of Big Tech include persuading the Federal Trade Commission to endorse new rules about the aggregation of personal data, along with banning unfair means of competition in online markets. For example, large platforms developing “copycat” products to displace those from smaller businesses qualifies as unfair.
Biden’s administration also aims to encourage the FTC to introduce more scrutiny to mergers by dominant online platforms, with an emphasis on involving smaller competitors, data accumulation, “serial mergers,” and the effects of these felt on competition of free products and privacy. Additionally, The White House also plans to encourage service providers to provide a “broadband nutrition label” that unpacks internet services, so consumers can more easily buy services with full transparency. Most crucially, the Biden administration’s executive order will push for the FCC to restore net neutrality rules that prevent the blocking, paid prioritization, or throttling of web traffic. This has been a major issue since the same agency took net neutrality down under the Trump administration.
The executive order also aims to save consumers money on internet bills with a ban on “excessive” early termination fees, in addition to putting an end to exclusivity arrangements in apartment buildings, where landlords may force tenants to choose just one internet provider. In all, this is a serious attempt to restore policies initially pursued by the FCC of President Obama’s administration. These were repealed in 2017 by Pai’s FCC under Trump, which came amid massive controversy. Then Pai moved to take down net neutrality and broadband competition, the justifications he gave were proven false repeatedly, with the broadband industry outed as using fake and deceased people to maintain the pretense of public support for a decision that few endorsed.
Biden still needs to appoint a full suite of FCC officials
The 2017 repeal also removed a substantial amount of the FCC’s consumer protection authority while simultaneously preventing states from protecting consumers in the light of federal indifference. Both of these moves caused serious issues amid the COVID-19 pandemic, which demonstrated the crucial significance of broadband use for employment, health care, and education. The White House can’t force an independent agency like the FCC what it should do, which is why Biden’s executive order merely “encourages” the agency to attempt to restore both the consumer protection authority under the Communications Act, and net neutrality rules.
This could be a sweeping move in favor of small businesses and individual consumers’ power on the net, but Biden still needs to appoint a series of agency commissioners, in addition to a permanent leader for the FCC, and after six months holding the office of the presidency, we’ve not seen signs of this process starting. While it may take months for this new executive order to begin to take effect, this could literally reshape the geography of not only the internet itself, but also the social and economic realities of everyone in the country, in the coming years.