Democrats warn: 'There is going to be a political price to pay for taking net neutrality away from the American people'

  • The Federal Communications Commission finalised the repeal of Obama-era rules for internet service providers on Thurdsay.
  • While protesters demonstrated outside the hearing, the room was briefly evacuated due to a threat.

WASHINGTON – The Federal Communications Commission finalised the rollback of the Obama administration’s “net neutrality” effort on Thursday, while incensed protesters and Democratic lawmakers demonstrated outside.

Outside the hearing in the small square next to the FCC building, Democratic lawmakers such as Sen. Ed Markey, Rep. Ro Khanna and others delivered speeches atop a stage filled with scores of protesters.

“We invented the internet,” said Khanna. “We should be paying the cheapest amount.”

“They are going to know, all of those in Congress all of those in the FCC that there is going to be a political price to pay for taking net neutrality away from the American people,” Markey shouted at the crowd. “This is a fundamental issue of equality so that the smallest entrepreneur, the smallest voice has equal access to the internet.”

Inside the packed hearing room, FCC commissioners led by the agency’s chairman Ajit Pai began debating the merits of net neutrality regulations, which classified internet access as a basic utility, heading to a vote.

“What saddens me the most today is that the agency that is supposed to protect you is actually abandoning you,” said FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn in her statement opposing the net neutrality rollback. “But what I am pleased to be able to say today is that the fight to save net neutrality does not end today.”

The rollback of the regulations is a controversial move that will give broadband providers more leeway to sell different tiers of internet service, but which critics say will leave consumers and web startups at the mercy of the big telecomunications companies.

“The internet has functioned without net neutrality rules far longer than with them,” said FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly, who supported the rules repeal. “This decision will not break the internet.”

After Pai began his opening statement, building security entered the hearing room and ordered everyone to evacuate into the hallway and leave all items behind.

After about 15 minutes, reporters, staff, and visitors were able to enter the room and the hearing resumed, which was followed by a party-line vote of 3-2, with Republicans voting for the repeal and Democrats voting against it.

“The only future to fear is the one we never discover because we gave up on the approach that already has brought us so far,” Pai said.

Net neutrality regulations prevented internet service providers (ISPs) from blocking certain websites or from charging companies and customers more for so-called internet “fast lanes.” Those fast lanes could mean the difference between a smooth, TV-like experience watching online videos or a frustrating frozen screen.

Now that the repeal is official, it’s likely headed to court. Several groups have already said they plan to file lawsuits against the decision on the grounds that the FCC didn’t seriously consider the millions of pro-net neutrality comments submitted to the commission. There will also be a push to get Congress to bring back net neutrality regulations through legislation.

Steve Kovach contributed to this report.

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