The Net Neutrality Debate: Access to Broadband Networks Page: 2 of 26
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The Net Neutrality Debate: Access to Broadband Networks
As congressional policymakers continue to debate telecommunications reform, a major
discussion point revolves around what approach should be taken to ensure unfettered access to the
Internet. The move to place restrictions on the owners of the networks that compose and provide
access to the Internet, to ensure equal access and nondiscriminatory treatment, is referred to as
"net neutrality." While there is no single accepted definition of "net neutrality," most agree that
any such definition should include the general principles that owners of the networks that
compose and provide access to the Internet should not control how consumers lawfully use that
network, and they should not be able to discriminate against content provider access to that
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in its February 26, 2015, open meeting voted
3-2, along party lines, to adopt new open Internet rules and released these rules on March 12,
2015. One of the most controversial aspects of the rules is the decision to reclassify broadband
Internet access service as telecommunications service under Title II, thereby subjecting Internet
service providers to a more stringent regulatory framework. With limited exceptions, the rules
went into effect June 12, 2015. Various parties challenged the legality of the FCC's 2015 Open
Internet Order, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, in a June 14, 2016, ruling,
voted (2-1) to uphold the legality of all aspects of the 2015 FCC Order. A petition for full U.S.
Appeals Court court review was denied and parties have petitioned for U.S. Supreme Court
The FCC's May 18, 2017, adoption (2-1) of a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to reexamine the
rules adopted in 2015, with an eye to considering a less regulatory approach, has once again
opened up the debate over what the appropriate framework is to ensure an open Internet. Reaction
to this proposal has been mixed. Some see the current FCC rules as regulatory overreach and
welcome a more "light-touch" approach, which they feel will stimulate broadband investment,
deployment, and innovation. Others fully support the current 2015 regulations and feel that their
modification will result in a concentration of power to the detriment of content, services, and
applications providers, as well as consumers, and refute the claim that these regulations have had
a negative impact on broadband investment, expansion, or innovation.
To date, congressional action in the 115th Congress has focused on two aspects of the current
rules: privacy (S.J.Res. 34, S. 878, S. 964, H.J.Res. 86, H.Res. 230, H.R. 1754, H.R. 1868, H.R.
2520, H.R. 3175) and transparency (S. 228, H.R. 288). Separately, legislation (S. 993) to nullify
the FCC's 2015 Open Internet Order has also been introduced. The FCC's move to reexamine its
existing open Internet rules has reopened the debate over whether Congress should consider a
more comprehensive measure to amend existing law to provide greater regulatory stability and
guidance to the FCC. Whether Congress will choose to address more comprehensive legislation
to amend the 1934 Communications Act, to provide a broad-based framework for such regulation,
remains to be seen.
Congressional Research Service
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Gilroy, Angele A. The Net Neutrality Debate: Access to Broadband Networks, report, October 17, 2017; Washington D.C.. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc1042344/m1/2/: accessed December 18, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.