The Net Neutrality and Broadband Justice Act

by Dave Garb, Legislative Committee Chair

A couple weeks ago, Vice President Kamala Harris announced that millions of American households have signed up for broadband internet credits through a provision in the bipartisan infrastructure bill called the Affordable Connectivity Program.  This bill passed in November of 2021 and White House officials are calling it an example of the administration’s efforts to lower costs for Americans amid the high inflation that has swept our nation.

This program provides eligible households a $30 monthly credit toward the cost of their internet service plan, or a $75 monthly credit for households living on Tribal lands.  Households with an income at or below 200% of the poverty level are eligible, as well as any household with at least one member who participates in Medicaid, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Federal Pell Grants, and other programs.

FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel circulated a Notice of Inquiry in mid-July to kick off the agency’s annual evaluation of the state of broadband across the country.  As part of this assessment, Chairwoman Rosenworcel proposed increasing the national standard for minimum broadband speeds and proposed setting a long-term goal for broadband speed.

“The needs of internet users long ago surpassed the FCC’s 25/3 speed metric, especially during a global health pandemic that moved so much of life online,” said Chairwoman Rosenworcel.  “The 25/3 metric isn’t just behind the times, it’s a harmful one because it masks the extent to which low-income neighborhoods and rural communities are being left behind and left offline.  That’s why we need to raise the standard for minimum broadband speeds now and while also aiming even higher for the future, because we need to set big goals if we want everyone everywhere to have a fair shot at 21st century success.”

This Notice of Inquiry proposes to increase the national broadband standard to 100 megabits per second for downloading and 20 megabits per second for uploading.  The FCC previously set the broadband standard at 25/3 Mbps in 2015 and has not updated it since.  It also proposes to set a separate national goal of 1 Gbps/500 Mbps for the future. 

Looking beyond speed, Chairwoman Rosenworcel also suggested that the Commission consider affordability, adoption, availability, and equitable access as part of its determination as to whether broadband is being deployed in a reasonable and timely fashion. 

Speaking of broadband, the FCC is also hoping to reclassify the Net Neutrality and Broadband Justice Act.  They would like to change the designation of internet access as a Title II telecommunications service and return the FCC’s authority to impose net neutrality rules.

That authority went away in 2017 when the FCC, under then Chairman Ajit Pai, reclassified it as a Title I information service not subject to mandatory access or potentially rate regulation rules.

This bill has been introduced by Senator Mikey with a companion bill by Rep. Matsui.  If passed, broadband would become this Title II status and would then be subject to net neutrality, and other potential requirements

”The pandemic made clear internet access is no longer a luxury, but a necessity—and that consumers don’t just need broadband, they need to be able to hold their providers to account,” said Chairwoman Rosenworcel.

“After all, everyone should be able to go where they want and do what they want online without their broadband provider making choices for them.  I support Net Neutrality because it fosters this openness and accountability.  While I trust the FCC has the authority it needs to adopt Net Neutrality rules, legislation that helps ensure it is the law of the land is welcome.” Commissioner, Geoffrey Starks, also gave his support of the bill, “I have previously stated that the FCC’s 2015 Net Neutrality rules were the right approach.  That approach is undergirded by a voluminous record and overwhelming public support, and it has been tested in court,” said Starks. “The Net Neutrality and Broadband Justice Act would codify just that.  COVID and the last few years have proven that broadband is essential for the 21st century.  This legislation is an important step that will provide certainty to consumers and broadband providers and allow everyone to move forward.”