Proposed regulations over internet companies could change free speech online

How the internet is regulated
How the internet is regulated
Key Points
  • The Trump administration is calling for a reexamination of Section 230, which provides "conduit immunity" to internet platforms.
  • Senators are turning to the Federal Communications Commission for guidance, which may increase their responsibilities in internet regulation. 

The Trump administration is calling for a reexamination of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996.

The act was originally meant to curb pornography and illicit materials posted online, but except for Section 230, it was found to violate the First Amendment.

"It's the foundation that helps keep our internet more civil," said Carl Szabo, vice president and general counsel for NetChoice.

A recent request from the Justice Department follows 10 months of research into how Section 230 has shaped the internet and calls for drastic reforms. However, the department would need Congress to act to implement its recommendations. One key body Congress could choose to take on a more regulatory role is the Federal Communications Commission, which is now charged with regulating the infrastructure that supports the internet. How far that regulation extends has been an evolving challenge for policymakers.

During the net neutrality movement, the FCC examined the possibility of helping to regulate content by allowing companies to offer paid prioritization or a "fast lane" for some content providers. Under Chairman Ajit Pai, the FCC decided that it does not regulate content and left the option of paid prioritization up to the companies. 

The U.S. does not have one agency tasked with regulating the internet in its 21st century form, including content and infrastructure, according to Nicol Lee Turner, a government and technology fellow at the Brookings Institution. "I think we've applied some Band-Aids versus really looking at the full course of the evolution of technology."

The new call from President Donald Trump and the Department of Justice may lead to a new regulatory framework for the internet set forth by the FCC. Four senators, including Marco Rubio, wrote to the FCC earlier this month to request a "fresh look" at Section 230.

Watch the video above to learn more about how the internet is currently regulated.