Now that Republican members of the Federal Communications Commission have reversed the net neutrality policy of the Obama administration, the-five member committee has a different job to do, leadership says.
Net neutrality rules, released in 2015, placed heavy restrictions on internet providers preventing them from price controlling or slowing down the access to certain websites.
“This is an issue where people feel very passionate about it. It’s the intersection of government and the Internet,” FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr said on Federal Drive with Tom Temin. “This was a tough battle. Strong opinions on both sides.”
The FCC voted on Dec. 14 to restore the internet as a public utility. This decision came after a new rule was launched in April 2017 to reverse the rulings. Carr said this is a positive step forward, as it opens more doors for different internet providers and potentially faster networks.
“We’re going back to the same regulatory classification of the internet that existed in 2015 and for the 20 years before that,” he said. “During the time, under that regime, consumers obviously were protected [and] the internet was free and open.”
The decision did spark debate both from the liberal members of the FCC and the public. The main argument seems to center on how internet providers will charge the consumers based on their internet activity.
Carr said that while the rhetoric, and some backlash, has gone too far, he doesn’t see any lasting impact from the change. Most of the work to repeal the former policy is already complete, but some minor events still need to take place.
“There are some procedural steps left and we need to publish this decision in the Federal Register, which could take a couple weeks,” Carr said. “There is [also] what’s called a Paperwork Reduction Act analysis that the Office of Management and Budget does, and is going to be another couple of weeks or months before this decision takes effect.”
But that delay may be good news for consumers who worry how their internet bills may change.
Millions of consumers filed complains and comments when the decision was posted, and Carr said the FCC is working to identify the significant issues that people raise and work their way through those comments.
This initiative is focused on transitioning from 4G LTE to 5G, an even faster broadband network. The project is still in its early stages, and the FCC is working to streamline some of the new regulations to include the new networks. Carr said this will require the network be up and running, with the deployment of new antennas that can handle the high-speed service.
“We have to do what they call ‘densify’ the network, which means to deploy about a million new cells,” Carr said. “So we’re going again from relatively few (300,000) to over a million antenna sites. But they will be smaller than what you see right now in terms of macros. These new small cells could be the size of a pizza box or a shoe box.”
The timeline process for the current 4G and LTE towers were much quicker because of the relatively small amount. Using the same process for 5G implementation may slow down the deployment, Carr said. Plus, the FCC also needs to look into how state and local laws apply to the new antennas and how drones, autonomous vehicles and other unmanned aircraft will connect to these networks.
Carr said once everything is streamlined, the positives will outweigh the negatives for every actor involved.
“Every actor in the internet space, whether it’s ISP broadband providers, content providers [or] providers like Facebook and Google, they’re all really going to benefit from this decision in part,” he said. “That’s what we’re really hopefully going to see, is an increase in investment in our broadband infrastructure.”
Carr said one of the massive hiccups in the implementation of 5G infrastructure is that investment.