FCC votes to scrap Obama-era net neutrality rules

A protesters sign is seen during a rally against the Federal Communication Commission's (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai’s proposal to repeal 'net neutrality' rules. Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI | License Photo

By Allen Cone – UPI

The Federal Communications Commission in a controversial decision Thursday repealed the so-called net neutrality rules, to loosen regulation on Internet service providers.

FCC commissioners voted 3-2 to roll back the regulations, instituted in 2015, for companies like AT&T, Verizon and Comcast — and no longer treat the providers like a utility.

Thursday’s change had pitted mainly Republicans and Internet providers against Democrats and other tech companies, like social media sites.

The three votes to change the rule were cast by Chairman Ajit Pai and Commissioners Michael O’Rielly and Brendan Carr, all Republicans, while Democrats Mignon Clyburn and Jessica Rosenworcel voted against.

Pai last month recommended to return to the “light-touch, market-based framework that unleashed the digital revolution” before the Obama-era regulations were established.

Opponents to the change protested outside the FCC Thursday with signs urging the commission to reconsider. Protesters also have appeared at other government buildings and major businesses that would be affected by the decision, including Verizon stores.

The rules prevented broadband companies from slowing down or blocking any sites or apps.

Under Pai’s plan — called the “The Restoring Internet Freedom Order” — the federal government will “stop micromanaging the Internet.” He said the plan will put the Federal Trade Commission — “the most experienced privacy cop … back on the beat to protect consumers’ online privacy.”

The changes were sought by telecom and cable companies that said other Internet-based companies like Google and Netflix have an unfair advantage by escaping FTC oversight.

Before the vote, the hearing was suspended for a few minutes “on advice of security.” The room was swept by authorities and police dogs, but it wasn’t immediately clear what prompted the evacuation.

Eighteen state attorneys general sought to delay the vote because they said public comments on the plan, a part of the implementation process, came from fraudulent identities.

Attorney General Schneiderman said as many as two million comments misused the identities of Americans, including more than 100,000 comments per state in New York, Florida, Texas and California.

Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Angus King, I-Maine, had sent a letter to Pai that Congress and the FCC should hold public hearings on the matter — and 21 Democratic Senators called Pai’s plan “reckless.”

More than 100 House Republicans supported the change in a letter to the FCC Wednesday.

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