WASHINGTON (ABC/WTNH) — The Federal Communications Commission voted Thursday to repeal so-called net neutrality rules that govern the way internet service providers treat different types of content and data.
The five commissioners of the FCC voted along party lines – three Republicans to two Democrats – to roll back the rules, imposed in 2015 under President Barack Obama. The public debate over the rules had been heated at times and Thursday’s decision came after a brief delay when, on the “advice of security,” FCC Chairman Ajit Pai announced they would need to take a recess and the hearing room was evacuated.
Repeal supporters claimed the rules unnecessarily regulated the industry and impeded upon the free market.
“It is not the job of the government to pick the winners and losers of the internet… we should have a level playing field,” Pai said Thursday.
Under the rules rescinded Thursday, internet service providers were prohibited from influencing loading speeds for specific websites or apps. The vote rolled back the policies that treated the internet like a utility and could potentially lead to the creation of different lanes of speeds for websites or content creators willing to pay for them. Critics worry that those costs could be passed along to consumers.
Democratic FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel described the vote as one that puts the FCC “on the wrong side of the American public,” and said she would not “give up” on efforts to fight the repeal.
Internet service providers will have to disclose whether they engage in certain types of conduct, such as blocking and prioritization, following Thursday’s decision. They must further explicitly publicize what is throttled and what is blocked, with the information posted on an easily accessible website hosted by the company or the FCC.
Repeal is a hallmark victory for Pai, whose 11-month tenure has seen him strongly advocate for reduced regulation. Pai was named FCC chairman in January by President Donald Trump, who has made no secret of his interest in reigning in Obama-era business regulations.
Eighteen state attorneys general made a last ditch effort to delay the vote by claiming they have uncovered more than a million public comments on the motion using fraudulent identities.
“The FCC must delay its vote until we get to the bottom of this massive fraud,” said New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. Pai ignored requests for a delay, and after the vote, Schneiderman tweeted that he will sue to stop the action.
An additional bipartisan request to halt the vote came from Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Angus King, I-Maine, this week, who argued that Congress and the FCC should hold public hearings “in order to investigate the best way to ensure citizens, and our economy have strong net neutrality protections that guarantee consumer choice, free markets, and continued growth.”
More than a hundred House Republicans sent a letter to the FCC on Wednesday applauding the agency’s plan to repeal its net neutrality rules.
Some internet service providers, including Comcast, while supporting the repeal, have promised not to throttle speeds or block websites, a pledge met with skepticism by Democratic FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn.
“What they will soon have is every incentive to do their own thing,” she said in remarks prior to the vote, adding, “Who is the cop on the beat who can or will stop them?”
On Thursday, Senator Richard Blumenthal issued the following statement in reaction the vote:
The FCC has recklessly and needlessly repealed rules that have kept the playing field level, and defined the success of our current internet economy. This action has made a mockery of consumer protection at the expense of our economy. It will disastrously disadvantage small businesses. It threatens the internet’s incredible success and persistent innovation. And it will harm consumers with higher prices and lower speeds. In the face of overwhelming opposition, Chairman Pai and the Republican majority of the FCC have damaged the open internet as we know it, and with it the uniquely American accessibility and spirit that has allowed it to thrive. Without these protections, antitrust agencies and other regulators must play a much more aggressive role – including more vigorous and frequent investigations of anticompetitive behavior – but even that will not be sufficient to neutralize the harm caused by the FCC’s rash and destructive action.”
Senator Chris Murphy said the internet is at its best when everyone has equal access.
Imagine if the power company could decide which of your appliances got steady, reliable electricity while all other products suffered from low power and blackouts. Or if the water company could throttle back your water supply if they thought your shower was too long. The reason we regulate utilities is exactly so they can’t play those games-we don’t allow them to play favorites with consumers or providers. But that’s exactly what President Trump’s FCC just did with the internet – broadband providers and big businesses will make a bunch of money, but consumers, small businesses, and startups could be hit hard. The internet is at its best when it’s open and accessible to anyone or any business. The success of your business, website or ideas shouldn’t be based on whether you have enough cash to pay off your cable company. We need to bring back net neutrality and keep the internet free and open,”
Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy called the vote anti-competitive.
The vote today by the FCC is an all-out assault on a free and open internet. Open internet access is essential to our economic competitiveness. This move is anti-consumer, anti-competitive, flies in the face of the best interests of the people of our nation, and will have a damaging impact on the ability of Americans to utilize the internet.”
Congressman Joe Courtney called the decision outrageous.
The reckless and outrageous decision by the FCC today overturns a 2015 rule that painstakingly balanced open access to the internet and low costs for consumers with the goal of supporting investment and economic growth. There is absolutely no evidence that the rule was not working, and the only conceivable justification for the decision was fulfilling a political promise that this administration made to special interests. I look forward to working with my colleagues to reinstate the Obama-era policy of net neutrality that was working for the American people and small businesses who are the real drivers of the internet economy.”
State Comptroller Kevin Lembo pointed out how the FCC’s decision will impact Connecticut businesses.
The Federal Communications Commission’s vote today to dismantle landmark regulations that protect Americans’ equal access to the internet is a deeply troubling reversal that benefits the powerful few over millions of Americans, particularly working families and small businesses. This action is an assault on consumers and a betrayal of our country’s commitment to free speech and a free press. In 2015 I witnessed, in person, the FCC’s historic vote to adopt ‘net neutrality’ – guaranteeing Americans have equal access to the essential economic and social benefits of a fair and open internet. Today’s repeal of net neutrality threatens to shrink economic opportunities for Connecticut families and businesses – and grow the gaps in income, education and equality. I am thankful to FCC Commissioners Jessica Rosenworcel and Mignon Clyburn who delivered thoughtful and principled dissent.”
State Representative John Larson said the FCC’s decision was a step backwards for consumer protections.
In a time when access to broadband has become an essential part of our everyday lives, we should be looking for ways to improve access to an open internet for all instead of walking backwards. I am deeply disappointed with the FCC’s decision to disregard the concerns of 83 percent of American people by proceeding with a vote to roll back these important rules. Not only is this action a step backwards for consumer protections, but it will not help spur an environment for innovation and growth. Congress should act quickly to ensure that net neutrality is preserved in order to provide fair and equal access to the Internet for all.”