The FCC has voted to dismantle Obama-era net neutrality laws governing the internet.
The repeal was passed Thursday on a party-line vote of 3-2. The FCC’s current chairman, Aji Pai, who was appointed to the position by Donald Trump, voted to end net neutrality and was joined by Republican commissioners Michael O’Reilly and Brendan Carr. Democratic commissioners Jessica Rosenworcel and Mignon Clyburn voted in opposition.
Pai and fellow opponents of net neutrality say the current regulations, enacted in 2015, have led to “higher broadband prices, slower broadband speeds, less broadband deployment, less innovation, and fewer options for consumers.”
However, net neutrality advocacy groups say such a scenario would occur only after regulations are reversed, as internet service providers would be free to create a two-tier pay-to-play internet, where websites are charged extra fees for faster load speeds and other preferential treatments. ISPs could also slow down their competitors’ websites, block content they disagree with, and impose data limits on users.
In her dissenting opinion, FCC commissioner Rosenworcel proclaimed today’s decision a “misguided action,” arguing that “our broadband providers will get extraordinary new power from this agency. They will have the power to block websites, throttle services, and censor online content. They will have the right to discriminate and favor the internet traffic of those companies with whom they have pay-for-play arrangements and the right to consign all others to a slow and bumpy road.”
“Now our broadband providers will tell you they will never do these things. They say just trust us. But know this: they have the technical ability and business incentive to discriminate and manipulate your internet traffic. And now this agency gives them the legal green light to go ahead and do so,” Rosenworcel added.
Former Democratic FCC chairman Tom Wheeler said repealing net neutrality would be “tragic,” adding that “the job of the FCC is to represent the consumer. If you like your cable company, you’ll love what this does for the Internet, because it gives internet service providers the same kind of control over content and price as cable operators have today.”
The FCC held no public hearings in advance of today’s vote (Pai did find time, however, to appear in a “comedy” sketch alongside a Verizon executive). The FCC also ignored the millions of comments submitted to its website, many of which were fraudulent and came from Russian email addresses. Several state attorney generals asked the FCC to delay its vote until the fraudulent comments could be investigated, but Pai rejected their calls.
While today’s decision is certainly a blow to supporters of net neutrality, the fight is far from over. Many advocacy groups have already announced their intention to challenge the FCC in court, arguing that its decision “violates federal laws barring agencies from crafting ‘arbitrary and capricious’ regulations.” Congress can also take up the issue and pass legislation safeguarding net neutrality. Seeing as that 83% of voters are in favor of net neutrality, they may be inclined to do just that. Then again, any legislation would still need to be signed into law by Donald Trump.
For a great primer on net neutrality, check out the below segment from John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight. Also read Lior Philip’s essay on the impact facing independent musicians, with contributions from Ted Leo and Amanda Palmer. The repeal of net neutrality would also have serious repercussions for impoverished and lower income communities, as Al Jazeera recently outlined.