But pro-net neutrality groups will sue FCC to reinstate consumer protections.
By Jon Brodkin | Ars Technica
The Federal Communications Commission voted today to deregulate the broadband industry and eliminate net neutrality rules that prohibit Internet service providers from blocking and throttling Internet traffic.
The repeal of net neutrality rules became a near-certainty about a year ago when Donald Trump won the presidency and appointed Republican Ajit Pai to the FCC chairmanship. Pai and Republican Commissioners Michael O’Rielly and Brendan Carr provided the three votes necessary to overturn the net neutrality rules and the related “Title II” classification of broadband providers as common carriers.
Democrats Mignon Clyburn and Jessica Rosenworcel provided bitter dissents in today’s 3-2 vote. Despite the partisan divide in government, polls show that majorities of both Democratic and Republican voters supported the rules, and net neutrality supporters protested outside the FCC headquarters before the vote.
“New power… to block websites, throttle services, and censor online content”
Going forward, home Internet providers and mobile carriers will be bound not by strict net neutrality rules but by whatever promises they choose to make. ISPs will be allowed to block or throttle Internet traffic or offer priority to websites and online services in exchange for payment.
“The Internet is the greatest free market innovation in history,” Pai said before today’s vote. “What is responsible for the phenomenal development of the Internet? It certainly wasn’t heavy-handed government regulation.”
“Following today’s vote, American consumers will still be able to access the websites they want to visit,” he also said.
Pai repeated his claim that “under title II, investment in high-speed networks has declined by billions of dollars.” He did not mention that major broadband providers themselves have told investors that Title II hasn’t harmed their investment. He also has not provided data to support a new claim that a few small Internet providers were hurt by the rules.
Pai said that today’s decision will achieve regulatory parity in the “Internet economy,” putting Internet providers under a regulatory regime similar to the one that governs search engines and other online platforms. He compared Twitter blocking certain tweets to ISPs blocking websites. “These are very real, actual threats to the open Internet,” he said.
The FCC will have to defend its decision in court, as pro-net neutrality groups plan to appeal. Advocates are also pushing Congress to reinstate net neutrality rules.
Today’s vote occurred after a short delay due to an apparent security threat.
As long as ISPs publicly disclose the blocking, throttling, or paid prioritization, they won’t be violating any FCC rules. The Federal Trade Commission could punish ISPs if they make promises and then break them, but there’s no requirement that the ISPs make the promises in the first place.
“As a result of today’s misguided action, 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,” Rosenworcel said. “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.”
Even though broadband providers may say they won’t do such things, “they have the technical ability and business incentive to discriminate and manipulate your Internet traffic” and now have the legal green light to do so, she said.
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