FCC votes 3-2 to repeal net neutrality

Getty/Alex WongFCC chairman Ajit Pai.
  • The FCC has repealed its own 2015 net-neutrality rules in a 3-2 vote.
  • The repeal is likely to be met with lawsuits and a push to bring back the regulations through legislation in Congress.
  • The FCC’s meeting was interrupted by a security threat, forcing everyone to evacuate the room while police searched the area with sniffing dogs.

Federal regulators voted Thursday to eliminate a two-year-old rule that classified internet access as a basic utility, 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 telecommunications companies.

In a partisan vote repealing net-neutrality protections, the FCC has lifted restrictions that prevented internet service providers (ISPs) from blocking certain websites or from charging companies and customers more for internet “fast lanes.”

Those so-called fast lanes could mean the difference between a smooth, TV-like experience watching online videos or a frustrating frozen screen – a vital distinction as services like entertainment, news, and education shift to online platforms.

As expected, the vote passed the commission in a 3-2 party-line vote, with Republicans voting for the repeal and Democrats voting against it.

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.

The 2015 net-neutrality rule, passed under the administration of President Obama, classified broadband internet service under Title II of the Communications Act, essentially defining it as a basic utility such as telephone service.

A ‘great day’ on the ‘wrong side of history’

Critics of Thrusday’s vote to repeal net neutrality say it will result in higher prices and fewer choices for consumers, and that it will be a boon to ISPs that will enter into a new environment where they will be free to commoditize the internet and figure out new ways make money off their customers’ internet access.

The vote brought out passionate comments from Republicans and Democrats on the commission. Democratic commissioner Mignon Clyburn gave the most impassioned plea for protecting net neutrality.

“I dissent from this fiercely spun, legally lightweight, consumer-harming, corporate-enabling Destroying Internet Freedom Order,” Clyburn said in her opening remarks.

The Republican members of the commission brought back their previous arguments from when the first proposed net neutrality repeal. They said it would bring back the lighter regulations the internet flourished under for most of its existence and would allow ISPs to invest more in broadband technologies.

The meeting was briefly interrupted in the middle of Chairman Ajit Pai’s remarks due to what the Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Protective Service later said was a bomb threat. Guards and police dogs could be seen on The Washington Post’s live feed searching the room after it had been evacuated.

Here are some notes we took during the discussion of the net-neutrality repeal:

  • Deborah Salons, attorney adviser at the Wireline Competition Bureau, gives a statement to the commission that largely backs FCC chairman Ajit Pai’s proposal to repeal net neutrality.
  • Commissioner Mignon Clyburn gave her comments, saying she dissents on the “consumer-harming” internet order. She also said she’s “outraged” at the FCC’s move. It’s an impassioned statement.
  • Clyburn points out that some Republican members of Congress have dissented against the repeal order and that the majority of people favour keeping net neutrality.
  • Clyburn says the FCC doesn’t appear to be serving and listening to the people they represent.
  • Clyburn points out that the FCC has refused to cooperate with several state attorney generals to look into fake public comments on the net neutrality repeal order.
  • Clyburn says social media has been important for the spread of information during important events like the protests in 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri, which gained traction through Twitter.
  • Commissioner Michael O’Rielly gives his statement. He supports the repeal. He says the decision will not “break the internet,” but will return to the rules that the internet was governed by before.
  • O’Rielly says net neutrality rules put too many heavy regulations on ISPs. He blames a YouTube video from the Obama administration for persuading the FCC to regulate the internet in 2015.
  • O’Rielly says many of the harms net-neutrality advocates fear are theoretical. ISPs will have to disclose changes they make and will be subject to FTC regulations.
  • O’Rielly addresses the “fake” comments submitted to the FCC. He says they have no effect on the decision and that legitimate comments were not ignored. “Many were obscenity-laced tirades,” he said.
  • Commissioner Brendan Carr’s statement says “this is a great day” for the end of an Obama-era regulation. He says the order is turning to lighter regulation that has worked for most of the internet’s existence.
  • Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel says she dissents. “This decision puts the Federal Communication Commission on the wrong side of history,” she said.
  • Rosenworcel says ISPs will have the “legal green light” to discriminate against internet traffic and charge consumers more with the repeal of net neutrality.
  • Rosenworcel calls the process to repeal net neutrality “ugly” and admonished the leadership for not holding public hearings.
  • Chairman Ajit Pai gives his comments. Like his fellow Republican commissioners, he points to the “light-touch” regulations that allowed the internet to grow and enable new businesses and innovations.
  • “The internet wasn’t broken in 2015 … it was the one thing… we can all agree has been a stunning success,” Pai said.
  • Pai says broadband investment has decreased since the 2015 because of net-neutrality regulations.
  • Pai cuts his statement short, saying security advised the commission to take a recess.
  • The feed from the FCC cut out, but the Washington Post’s cameras are still streaming on YouTube. Multiple dogs can be seen sniffing under chairs.
  • Guards gave the clear signal and people reentered the room after being evacuated. Pai continued his remarks.
  • Pai says the new order would require more transparency from ISPs, which will be enforced by the FTC.
  • Pai likens advertising and promoted tweets, blocked apps, and more prioritisation and threats to internet freedom.

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