×

FCC votes along party lines to end ‘net neutrality’

  • Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai takes his seat for an FCC meeting where they will vote on net neutrality, Thursday, Dec. 14, 2017, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin) Jacquelyn Martin

  • Lindsay Chestnut of Baltimore holds a sign that reads “I like My Internet Like I Like my Country Free & Open” as she protests near the Federal Communications Commission in Washington on Thursday. AP

  • Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai, left, greets witnesses before a meeting where the FCC will vote on net neutrality, Thursday, Dec. 14, 2017, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin) Jacquelyn Martin

  • Diane Tepfer holds a sign with an image of Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai as the "Grinch who Stole the Internet" as she protests near the FCC, in Washington, Thursday, Dec. 14, 2017, where the FCC is scheduled to meet and vote on net neutrality. The vote scheduled today at the FCC, could usher in big changes in how Americans use the internet, a radical departure from more than a decade of federal oversight. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster) Carolyn Kaster

  • Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai arrives for an FCC meeting where they will vote on net neutrality, Thursday, Dec. 14, 2017, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin) Jacquelyn Martin



Associated Press
Friday, December 15, 2017

The Federal Communications Commission repealed the Obama-era “net neutrality” rules Thursday, giving internet service providers like Verizon, Comcast and AT&T a free hand to slow or block websites and apps as they see fit or charge more for faster speeds.

In a straight party-line vote of 3-2, the Republican-controlled FCC junked the longtime principle that said all web traffic must be treated equally. The move represents a radical departure from more than a decade of federal oversight.

The big telecommunications companies had lobbied to overturn the rules, contending they discourage investment in broadband networks.

“What is the FCC doing today?” asked FCC chairman Ajit Pai, a Republican. “Quite simply, we are restoring the light-touch framework that has governed the internet for most of its existence.”

The push to eliminate net neutrality has stirred fears among consumer advocates, Democrats, many web companies and ordinary Americans afraid that the cable and phone giants will be able to control what people see and do online. But the broadband industry has promised that the internet experience for the public isn’t going to change.

The FCC vote is unlikely to be the last word. Net neutrality supporters threatened legal challenges, with New York’s attorney general vowing to lead a multistate lawsuit. Some Democrats want to overturn the FCC action in Congress.

“The fact that Chairman Pai went through with this, a policy that is so unpopular, is somewhat shocking,” said Mark Stanley, a spokesman for the civil liberties organization Demand Progress. “Unfortunately, not surprising.”

On Thursday, about 60 demonstrators gathered in the bitter chill in Washington to protest the FCC’s expected decision. Just before the vote, the hearing room was briefly evacuated and searched for unspecified security reasons.

The FCC subscribed to the principle of net neutrality for over a decade and enshrined it in rules adopted in 2015.

Under the new rules approved Thursday, the Comcasts and AT&Ts of the world could slow down or block access to services they don’t like or happen to be in competition with. They could also charge higher fees of rivals and make them pay up for higher transmission speeds.

Such things have happened before. In 2007, for example, the Associated Press found that Comcast was blocking or throttling some file-sharing. And AT&T blocked Skype and other internet calling services on the iPhone until 2009.

Thursday’s rule change also eliminates certain federal consumer protections, bars state laws that contradict the FCC’s approach, and largely transfers oversight of internet service to another agency altogether, the Federal Trade Commission.

Angelo Zino, an analyst at CFRA Research, said he expects AT&T and Verizon to be the biggest beneficiaries because the two internet giants can now give priority to the movies, TV shows and other videos or music they provide to viewers. That could hurt rivals such as Sling TV, Amazon, YouTube or start-ups yet to be born.

However, AT&T senior executive vice president Bob Quinn said in a blog post that the internet “will continue to work tomorrow just as it always has.” He said the company won’t block websites and won’t throttle or degrade online traffic based on content.

Internet companies such as Google, Twitter and Facebook have strongly backed net neutrality.

On Thursday, Netflix, said in a tweet it is “disappointed in the decision to gut #NetNeutrality protections that ushered in an unprecedented era of innovation, creativity & civic engagement. This is the beginning of a longer legal battle.”

White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the Trump administration “supports the FCC’s effort to roll back burdensome regulations. But as we have always done and will continue to do, we certainly support a free and fair Internet.”