The Hill: FCC Votes to Repeal Net Neutrality Rules

The Hill: FCC Votes to Repeal Net Neutrality Rules

Article from The Hill
Image from Tom’s Guide

December 14, 2017

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has voted to repeal its landmark net neutrality protections, capping off a months-long campaign by the agency’s Republicans to deregulate the broadband industry.

The FCC voted 3-2 along party lines Thursday to scrap its 2015 Open Internet Order as Democratic lawmakers and dozens of activists protested outside.

In a dramatic moment, the meeting was abruptly evacuated in the middle of FCC Chairman Ajit Pai’s remarks ahead of the vote.

Reporters and attendees were forced to exit the hearing room and leave their belongings as police brought in K9 units to sweep the room. Attendees were allowed to re-enter the room within 15 minutes of the evacuation. 

The FCC declined to comment on the reasons for the evacuation.

Democrats, consumer groups and tech companies have been rallying for months to try to stop the repeal plan, arguing that the rules are essential for preventing companies like Comcast and Verizon from abusing their powers and internet gatekeepers.

“As a result of today’s misguided action, our broadband providers will get extraordinary new power from this agency,” said Jessica Rosenworcel, a Democrat on the commission who voted against the repeal.

“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,” Rosenworcel said.

But despite the outcry surrounding his repeal proposal, Pai was unwavering in his opposition to the 2015 rules. Since he was a minority commissioner under the Obama administration, Pai has argued that the FCC overstepped when it imposed the restrictions.

The rules required internet service providers to treat all websites equally, banning them from blocking or throttling certain content or creating internet “fast lanes.”

Under the new regime, broadband companies will have to disclose publicly whether they engage in those practices. And, as Pai argues, the industry will not have a free pass because the Federal Trade Commission will have the authority to sue providers that deceive their consumers or use their powers to abuse competition on the web.

“Today’s vote represents a departure from more than a decade of broad, bipartisan consensus on the rules governing the internet,” said Michael Beckerman, CEO of the Internet Association trade group, which represents tech giants like Facebook, Google and Amazon. “Relying on ISPs to live up to their own ‘promises’ is not net neutrality and is bad for consumers.”

In recent weeks, Pai has defended his plan by arguing that Silicon Valley titans represent a bigger threat to the open internet, noting their opaque decision-making processes when it comes to moderating users’ content.

“Oh that’s absurd,” Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), whose district includes much of Silicon Valley, said in response to that during an interview with The Hill this week. He called Pai’s arguments “disingenuous.”

“There’s a total difference in terms of the essential necessity of having access to the internet, versus having access to a particular platform. Facebook and Google aren’t providing the gateway of access to the internet, that’s a whole different thing.”

Thursday’s vote is unlikely to end the fight over the popular consumer protections. Public interest groups have already vowed to challenge the move in court and Democrats plan to push legislation that would block it from going into effect as Republicans renew their calls for a legislative compromise that would put the issue to rest.