The Federal Communications Commission just took a step toward killing net neutrality.
In a 2-1 vote along party lines, the FCC on Thursday voted to advance chairman Ajit Pai’s proposal to undo the 2015 FCC decision to regulate internet providers as utilities. That decision, which put broadband internet under what’s called Title II regulation, basically meant internet companies couldn’t prioritize the services of their business partners or impair the services of rivals. Undoing that could affect charges, speed of information delivery to consumers, and startups’ ability to compete.
“The internet wasn’t broken in 2015; we were not living in a digital dystopia,” Pai said in a statement after the vote. “[Today] is the start of a new chapter in the public discussion about how we can best maintain a free and open internet while making sure that ISPs have strong incentives to bring next-generation networks and services to all Americans.”
Net neutrality advocates and Democratic lawmakers issued statements loudly condemning the FCC vote shortly after it concluded.
“Make no mistake: The FCC just took a major step toward destroying the internet as we know it, putting the interests of a handful of giant corporations like Comcast and Verizon ahead of the American people,” said Democratic Sen. Al Franken.
Statements from media groups concurred: “The FCC vote today shirks the agency’s obligations as a consumer watchdog in ways that threaten to widen the digital divide by giving Internet Service Providers more power to restrict access to the internet,” said Carmen Scurato, head of policy and legal affairs at the Hispanic Media Coalition.
The next step is a 90-day public comment period, which could be explosive if it’s anything like the public comment preceding the Thursday vote. The FCC claimed last week that its comment website was shut down by a denial-of-service attack, and it appears that over 50,000 bots impersonating people have been leaving anti-Title II regulation comments.
Beyond the public comment, Pai’s proposal to kill FCC-regulated net neutrality has a tough fight ahead. He might not be able to secure a quorum of commissioners for the necessary vote to pass the measure, and the FCC’s mishandling of the public comment process could create legal headaches further down the line.