A majority of US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) commissioners voted in favour of reinstating net neutrality rules that were struck down in 2017 during the administration of President Donald Trump, but the rule is now under public comment before a final vote.

The proposed rulemaking would also give the FCC regulatory oversight of broadband internet. The FCC’s notice of proposed rulemaking seeks comment on classifying fixed and mobile broadband internet as essential “telecommunications” services under Title II of the Communications Act.  

Prior to Trump, former President Barack Obama’s administration instituted rules that barred internet service providers from blocking or throttling traffic or offering paid fast lanes.

Current President Joe Biden has long expressed an interest in restoring net neutrality but was hamstrung for several years due to a 2-2 deadlock of commissioners.

In May, Biden nominated former National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) executive Anna Gomez as the fifth commissioner, which gave Democrats the majority.

The vote during the Trump administration was 3-2 along party lines, which was mirrored in the most recent vote with Democrats Jessica Rosenworcel, the current chair, and commissioners Geoffrey Starks and Anna Gomez voting for the return of net neutrality while Republican commissioners Brendan Carr and Nathan Simington dissented.

“Today, there is no expert agency ensuring that the internet is fast, open, and fair,” Rosenworcel noted. She claimed the 2017 decision to overturn net neutrality “put the agency on the wrong side of history, the wrong side of the law, and the wrong side of the American public”.

Ahead of the vote, Republican Carr argued against the need for a return to net neutrality, claiming “broadband speeds in the US have increased, prices are down, competition has intensified, and record-breaking new broadband builds have brought millions of Americans across the digital divide”.

“I would encourage the agency to reverse course and focus on the important issues that Congress has authorised the FCC to advance.”

AT&T CEO John Stankey this week denounced the possible return of net neutrality rules on the company’s Q3 earnings call.

Michael Powell, the chief executive officer of cable consortium NCTA-The Internet & Television Association, stated the “FCC unfortunately has placed politics over sound policy and fiction over facts,” and noted regulatory intervention would dissuade providers from building out their networks in under-served rural areas.

The comment period extends into 2024 before the second vote.