WASHINGTON (ViaNews) – On Thursday, the Federal Communications Commission voted along party lines – 3-2 – to repeal its net neutrality protections, setting the wheels in motion to deregulate the U.S. broadband industry.
The meeting came with a degree of drama as the hearing room was evacuated temporarily as police K-9 units were brought in to clear the room, according to The Hill.
Democrats on the FCC board called the vote “misguided” and that powers for broadband providers in the U.S. have grown exponentially.
“They will have the power to block websites, throttle services and censor online content,” said Jessica Rosenworcel, a Democrat on the commission, as reported by The Hill. “They will have the right to discriminate and favor the internet traffic of those companies with whom they have pay-for-play arrangements and the right to consign all others to a slow and bumpy road.”
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai – a longtime advocate of repealing the 2015 regulations – said broadband and the internet will not change for the average consumer.
“Following today’s vote, Americans will still be able to access the websites they want to visit. They will still be able to enjoy the services they want to enjoy,” Pai said during Thursday’s open meeting. “There will still be cops on the beat guarding a free and open internet. This is the way things were prior to 2015, and this is the way they will be once again.”
The 2015 rules required broadband companies to treat all websites equally, not allowing companies to give preferential treatment to websites to pay for “fast lanes” of access. The decision also removes rules barring internet service providers from prioritizing their content over that of others.
Immediately following the vote, Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson said he planned to file a lawsuit against the FCC to block the end of the net neutrality rules. In a statement, Ferguson said the suit is meant to stop a mass cutback of regulations across government.
“Allowing internet service providers to discriminate based on content undermines a free and open internet. Today’s action will seriously harm consumers, innovation, and small businesses,” Ferguson said, according to The Hill.
Ferguson joins New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman who also announced his intention of suing the federal government to halt the move.
The Internet Association, a trade group that represents Amazon, Facebook, and Google, said it opposes the ruling saying in a statement: “Relying on ISPs to live up to their own ‘promises’ is not net neutrality and it is bad for consumers.”
Reddit cofounders Alexis Ohanian and Steve Huffman said: “While the fight to preserve net neutrality is going to be longer than we had hoped, this is far from over,” according to CNN.
Some lawmakers on Capitol Hill had petitioned the FCC to delay its vote. The Senate delegation from Maine – Republican Sen. Susan Collins and independent Sen. Angus King suggested the delay was necessary as “the process thus far in this important matter has not met” the standard of a “thorough, deliberate, and thoughtful process.”
Because there will be no hard and fast rules regarding providers blocking or prioritizing content, those instances will still have to be filed publicly and will be evaluated to determine if the actions are anti-competitive.
Additionally, the Federal Trade Commission will be charged with overseeing internet protections – a task previously held by the FCC.