FCC Neuters Net Neutrality, Votes Out Obama-Era Rules

WASHINGTON DC – Internet service providers got an early Christmas gift. As widely expected, the Federal Communications Commission voted Thursday to repeal Obama-era net neutrality rules, handing the broadband and wireless industries a big victory in their battle against government oversight of the internet.

The Republican-led FCC , chaired by a former Verizon legal counsel, voted 3-2 along party lines to dismantle the 2015 regulations, which ensured all traffic on the internet is treated equally, and prevented broadband and wireless providers from blocking or slowing online content. The agency also voted to eliminate the legal foundation that gives the FCC oversight over internet service providers.

The vote was delayed briefly while security at FCC headquarters cleared the room.

Republican Commissioner Brendan Carr called it “a great day for consumers, for innovation and for freedom.” He said the vote returns the FCC to a light regulatory regime that had worked for 20 years until they were changed in 2015.

Mignon Clyburn, a Democratic commissioner, said she was outraged to watch the FCC “pull its own teeth, abdicating responsibility to protect the nation’s broadband consumers.”  FCC commissioners voted 3-2 to dismantle Obama-era net neutrality regulation.

The vote marks the latest twist in an 18-year debate over how the internet should be regulated or even if any rules are needed to make sure companies offering internet access don’t act as online gatekeepers.

One side says the Obama-era decision to classify broadband as a public utility ensures the FCC can establish enforceable rules to protect an open internet. An open internet means no fast or slow lanes and ensures free speech is protected online. The view is supported by consumer advocates, internet companies like Facebook and Google, and nonprofits, including the New York Public Library and First Amendment advocates like the American Civil Liberties Union.

On the other side of the debate are cable operators and phone companies, like AT&T, Comcast and Verizon, who say that treating broadband like the old telephone network hurts investment and stifles innovation.

The repeal of the rules was spearheaded by FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, who was named head of the agency earlier this year by President Donald Trump. He has called the rules “heavy-handed,” and contends that they’ve deterred innovation and depressed investment in building and expanding broadband networks. He said ditching the rules and reinstating the previous broadband classification is a return to the FCC’s “light touch” approach to regulation that started under former President Bill Clinton.

“Returning to this legal framework is not going to destroy the internet,” Pai said in his statement. “The internet as we know it is not ending. This will not destroy democracy … Americans will still be able to access sites they want to visit and services they want to use. There will still be cops on the beat the way things were prior to 2015.”

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