In a vote along party lines, the federal government has ended sweeping net-neutrality rules that guaranteed equal access to the internet.
The Thursday vote at the Federal Communications Commission will likely usher in big changes in how Americans use the internet, a radical departure from more than a decade of federal oversight. The move not only rolls back restrictions that keep broadband providers like Comcast, Verizon and AT&T from blocking or collecting tolls from services they don’t like, but bars states from imposing their own rules.
The broadband industry promises that the internet experience isn’t going to change, but its companies have lobbied hard to overturn these rules. Protests have erupted online and in the streets as everyday Americans worry that cable and phone companies will be able to control what they see and do online.
That growing public movement suggests that the FCC vote won’t be the end of the issue. Opponents of the move plan legal challenges, and some net-neutrality supporters hope to ride that wave of public opinion into the 2018 elections.
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, a Republican who said his plan to repeal net neutrality will eliminate unnecessary regulation, called the internet the “greatest free-market innovation in history.” He added that it “certainly wasn’t heavy-handed government regulation” that’s been responsible for the internet’s “phenomenal” development.
“What is the FCC doing today?” he asked. “Quite simply, we are restoring the light-touch framework that has governed the internet for most of its existence.”
Under the new rules, the Comcasts and AT&Ts of the world will be free to block rival apps, slow down competing service or offer faster speeds to companies who pay up. They just have to post their policies online or tell the FCC.
The change also axes consumer protections, bars state laws that contradict the FCC’s approach, and largely transfers oversight of internet service to another agency, the Federal Trade Commission.
Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, a Democrat who was appointed by President Barack Obama, lambasted the “preordained outcome” of the vote that she says hurts people, small and large businesses, and marginalized populations. She outlined her dissent from prepared remarks before the vote.
The end of net neutrality, she said, hands over the keys to the internet to a “handful of multi-billion dollar corporations.”
With their vote, the FCC’s majority commissioners are abandoning the pledge they took to make a rapid, efficient communications service available to all people in the U.S., without discrimination, Clyburn said in her dissenting remarks before the vote.
Delaware County District Library Director George Needham said repealing net neutrality could have a negative affect on the diversity of thoughts and opinions expressed online, especially for those without the financial resources of larger entities.
“There is concern in the library community that the decision is going to make it harder for a variety of voices to be heard, especially smaller voices that can’t buy their way into the top level of premier services,” Needham said. “Much like what happened with cable TV, there was a narrowing of focus from many small voices to a few big voices that could draw the big dollars. You’ll see this with TLC no longer being strictly ‘The Learning Channel,’ but including reality shows like ‘90 Day Fiance,’ or with the History Channel straying from historical stories to cover ‘Pawn Stars’ and ‘American Pickers.’”
Net neutrality supporter and Delaware resident Hong Nguyen said the FCC decision is of great concern to her.
“For me, it’s disturbing because I do feel like it’ll affect everybody — from children to high schools to libraries to local government,” said Nguyen, an alumnus of Hayes High School and The Ohio State University. “I think the next step is going to court. A lot of small tech companies are planning lawsuits, I guess.”
Nguyen, who is currently a student at Ashland University pursuing teacher licensure in math and science, began protesting publicly on Dec. 7, standing outside Delaware City Hall and talking to passersby regarding the issue.
“I feel like I did my part,” Nguyen said. “I called all my representatives. Emailed, tweeted. The last step was meeting a representative in person. … I even reached out to (Ohio) governor candidates (Mike) DeWine and (Jon) Husted, and they’ve all gone silent. I was disappointed. I appreciated (U.S. Rep. Pat) Tiberi and (State Sen.) Kris Jordan because they at least had a representative listen (to me).”
Nguyen said she believes the internet should administered like a public utility.
Following the FCC vote, Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, introduced a resolution of disapproval to rescind the action and restore the net neutrality rules.
“Internet providers should not be able to slow down your internet access or charge you more based on the shows you watch, the teams you cheer for or your political views,” said Brown.
Congressional Review Act resolutions allow Congress to overturn regulatory actions at federal agencies with a simple majority vote in both chambers. In accordance with the CRA, the senators will formally introduce the resolution once the rule is submitted to both houses of Congress and published in the federal register. Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Pa., plans to introduce a CRA resolution in the House of Representatives.
Delaware Gazette editor Andrew Carter contributed to this report.