UPDATED with FCC’s full Restoring Internet Freedom Offer (read it here): The FCC has just voted to repeal its net neutrality rules put into place by the Obama Administration. The vote, as expected, was 3-2 along party lines. The move effectively trashed the rules that require Internet providers like Comcast or AT&T to treat all web traffic equally.
The agency unwound a decision to regulate Internet access like a utility, and laid down rules prohibiting Internet providers from blocking websites, slowing access or charging a toll for higher-quality service or access to certain types of content.
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai framed the vote as a return to the bipartisan Internet regulation stance that prevailed before 2015, when the Democratic-led commission imposed net neutrality rules. That decision — which he flatly labeled a “mistake” — created a costly, regulatory thicket for smaller service providers and slowed investment in network infrastructure.
“None of this is good for consumers,” Pai said. “We need to empower all Americans with digital opportunity, not deny them the benefits of greater access and competition.”
The “transparency rules” of the Restoring Internet Freedom initiative, Pai added, “will ensure that customers know what they are buying.” The new rules require Internet providers to disclose their practices — saying such transparency, together with renewed oversight from the Federal Trade Commission oversight and market competition will produce the same benefits for consumers.
“It’s difficult to match that mundane reality to the apocalyptic rhetoric that we’ve heard from [net neutrality] supporters. And as the debate has gone on, their claims have gotten more and more outlandish. So let’s be clear,” Pai said. “Returning to the legal framework that governed the Internet from President Clinton’s pronouncement in 1996 until 2015 is not going to destroy the Internet.”
Jessica Rosenworcel and Mignon Clyburn, the two Democrats on the commission, strongly disagreed. In voting against the measure today, they both firmly indicated their position by stating, “I dissent.”
Clyburn began her long, sharp-edged remarks by saying, “I dissent from this fiercely spun, legally lightweight, consumer-harming, corporate-enabling ‘Destroying Internet Freedom’ order.” She pronounced herself outraged by the FCC’s decision to “pull its own teeth,” and abdicate its responsibility to protect the nation’s broadband consumers.
She said he was particularly concerned about what the rollback would mean for marginalized groups, like communities of color, that rely on platforms like the Internet to communicate — because traditional news outlets don’t consider their concerns worthy of coverage.
“It was through social media that the world first heard about Ferguson, Missouri, because legacy news outlets did not consider it important until the hashtag started trending,” Clyburn said.
When Clyburn finished a few minutes her “eulogy of our 2015 net neutrality rules,” Pai quipped, “I will mark that down as a ‘no,’” to laughter in the chambers.
Rosenworcel said the FCC’s decision puts the commission “on the wrong side of history;” and ignores the pleas from 20 Internet pioneers, including the father of the world wide web, Tim Berners-Lee, Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, who urged the FCC to cancel its vote because the new rules are based on a “flawed and factually inaccurate understanding of Internet technology.”
She took singular aim at a public participation process that has been marred by 2 million comments featuring stolen identities, a half-million remarks sent from Russian addresses and 50,000 complaints that went inexplicably missing.
“I worry that this decision and the process that brought us to this point is ugly. It’s ugly in the cavalier disregard this agency has demonstrated to the public, the contempt it has shown for citizens who speak up, and the disdain it has for popular opinion,” Rosenworcel said. “Unlike its predecessors this FCC has not held a single public hearing on net neutrality. There is no shortage of people who believe Washington is not listening to their concerns, their fears, and their desires. Add this agency to the list.”