Biden signs executive order calling for net neutrality to be restored

The president is aiming to 'restore competition' in the US economy

President Joe Biden signed an executive order on 9 July aiming to promote competition in the US economy, with a particular focus on big tech companies and the restoration of net neutrality.

The order establishes a whole-of-government effort to promote competition, with 72 initiatives by over a dozen federal agencies to tackle some of the “most pressing competition problems across our economy”.

“My executive order includes 72 specific actions. I expect the federal agencies - and they know this - to help restore competition so that we have lower prices, higher wages, more money, more options, and more convenience for the American people,” said Biden.

One initiative is that the president is encouraging the FCC to restore net neutrality rules that were undone by the previous administration. Biden is also encouraging the FCC to prevent ISPs from making deals with landlords that limit tenants’ choices and revive the “Broadband Nutrition Label”, a standardised format for internet providers to display their data allowances, price, and details on their performance.

The order also focuses on areas in which big tech firms are “undermining competition and reducing innovation”. It announces an administration policy of greater scrutiny of mergers, encourages the FTC to establish rules on surveillance and accumulation of data and rules barring unfair methods of competition on internet marketplaces.

Lastly, Biden also wants to make it easier and cheaper to repair items consumers own by limiting manufacturers from barring self-repairs or third-party repairs of their products, known as a right to repair. The order encourages the FTC to issue rules against anti-competitive restrictions on using independent repair shops or carrying out DIY repairs.

“We must ensure that the merger guidelines reflect current economic realities and empirical learning and that they guide enforcers to review mergers with the scepticism the law demands,” said FTC chair Lina Khan and acting assistant attorney general of the Justice Department Antitrust Division Richard Powers.

“The current guidelines deserve a hard look to determine whether they are overly permissive. We plan soon to jointly launch a review of our merger guidelines with the goal of updating them to reflect a rigorous analytical approach consistent with applicable law.”

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Democratic FCC commissioner Geoffrey Starks welcomed the order: “Today’s Executive Order spotlights the values that should drive our work toward that goal: affordability, fairness, competition, innovation, and consumer choice. The tens of millions of Americans without reliable internet access are counting on us—at the FCC and across the federal government—to fight for a more vibrant and inclusive broadband marketplace. I applaud President Biden’s sustained focus on these important issues.”

However, Republican Commissioner Brendan Carr said the FCC provisions in the Order represent “a big gift to big tech”.

“It embraces a backwards-looking, Obama-era approach to Internet regulation—one that would give the lobbyists at Google, Facebook, and Amazon the regulatory protections and price controls they’ve long sought while doing nothing to address Silicon Valley’s threats to free speech and an open Internet,” he said.

Carr added that the order does not propose actions to further accelerate new infrastructure builds or free up more spectrum. Instead, he said that the administration goes in a different direction that seems to double down on “price controls, government-run networks, and monopoly-style regulations”.

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