This article examines the international trade and human rights obligations of the United States as they relate to net neutrality to determine the extent to which the approach adopted by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in 2015 to promote an open Internet complies with those obligations. In March of that year, the FCC adopted new rules to promote and protect an open Internet that, inter alia, reclassified broadband providers as common carriers subject to nondiscrimination obligations and codified strong net neutrality protections. The authors argue that the 2015 FCC Order, contrary to its predecessors, largely meets the requirements of the international trade and human rights treaties to which the United States is a party.
Even so, we conclude that gaps in the 2015 Rules mean that the United States may still be liable under international law for potential failures to ensure that net neutrality and nondiscrimination principles are adequately protected. In particular, the dual issues of zero-rating and interconnection remain as potential threats to strong net neutrality in this country. This is because, as a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and a party to the ICCPR, the United States is bound to respect principles of nondiscrimination and free expression when regulating essential communications media like the Internet. Any FCC rule that does not meaningfully protect net neutrality at all levels of interconnectivity would run afoul of these international obligations and expose the United States to legal action by other governments and individuals prejudiced by its actions.
GW Paper Series
16 Geo. J. Int'l Aff. 98; GWU Law School Public Law Research Paper No. 2020-38; GWU Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2020-38.