The U.S. on Thursday dismantled two-year-old “net neutrality” rules that guaranteed equal access to the internet in favor of policies that would reduce regulation of major internet service providers and hand them sweeping powers to decide what web content consumers can access.
The Federal Communications Commission voted 3-2 to adopt a plan advanced by chairman Ajit Pai, appointed to his position by President Donald Trump, for a “light touch” on regulating major telecommunication companies and end what he says is the federal government’s “micromanaging” of the internet.
The meeting was briefly interrupted for security reasons before the vote took place. A video feed of the meeting showed law enforcement officers enter the room with dogs. No reason was immediately given for the disruption.
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Pai’s controversial changes unravel 2015 policies championed by former President Barack Obama. The overturning of net neutrality rules that treat all web traffic equally drew hundreds of public protests and more than a million calls to members of Congress in opposition to Pai’s plan. Some consumer groups vowed to file legal challenges of the new rules.
They roll back restrictions that have kept broadband providers like Comcast, Verizon and AT&T from blocking or charging fees to services they don’t like and would bar the country’s 50 states from enacting their own rules.
Pai said his plan will end unnecessary regulation and give more Americans access to the internet. It will give the large internet service providers the right to block rival apps, slow down competing services and offer faster internet connection to companies willing to pay for it.
“Prior to 2015, before these regulations were imposed, we had a free and open internet,” Pai told NBC ahead of the vote. “That is the future as well under a light touch, market-based approach. Consumers benefit, entrepreneurs benefit. Everybody in the internet economy is better off with a market-based approach.”
Tim Berners-Lee, the British engineer and creator of the World Wide Web, opposed changing the U.S. policy. He said on the online platform Medium this week, “Net neutrality – the principle that internet service providers treat all traffic equally – underpins the internet as we know it today.”
Berners-Lee said with Pai’s rules, “ISPs will have the power to decide which websites you can access and at what speed each will load. In other words, they’ll be able to decide which companies succeed online, which voices are heard – and which are silenced.”
But a lobbyist for the major telecom firms, Jonathan Spalter, head of the trade group USTelecom, dismissed concerns of opponents of the changes.
“I genuinely look forward to the weeks, months, years ahead when none of the fire and brimstone predictions comes to pass,” Spalter said.