WASHINGTON – The Federal Communications Commission voted Thursday to rescind Obama-era regulations governing the way internet providers distribute content to consumers. Despite national outcry, the committee voted 3-2 along party lines declaring that all internet traffic did not have to be treated equally by internet providers.
The new rules were championed by FCC Chairman and former Verizon lawyer, Ajit Pai, a Republican appointed by President Trump, who argues that the new policies will foster an environment of competition and create a better experience for the consumer.
“We are helping consumers and promoting competition,” said Pai, adding, “Broadband providers will have more incentive to build networks, especially to underserved areas.”
After news of the vote broke, social media erupted, sparking hashtags like #savetheinternet and #netneutrality, even prompting one lawmaker, Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Col., to promise legislation saying this was a matter best left to Congress.
Critics say the rollback is bad news for consumers.
Without the neutrality rules in place, opponents argue that companies like Verizon, Comcast, AT&T and Time Warner (Charter) can set their own rules adopting “fast lanes” for their content slowing down or even blocking competitor products altogether.
In a dissenting opinion, a Democratic FCC commissioner, Mignon Clyburn, said:
“I dissent because I am among the millions outraged. Outraged because the FCC pulls its own teeth, abdicating responsibility to protect the nation’s broadband consumers.”
Under the new rules, the Federal Trade Commission will take on the jurisdiction of policing internet provider practices, putting the only two commissioners on the FTC at odds. Terrell McSweeny, a Democrat and holdover from the Obama administration, said in a statement:
“The FCC’s vote Thursday to eliminate its open internet rules was a vote to undermine the free, open, and democratic internet that Americans overwhelmingly support.”
McSweeney argues broadband providers will favor their own content and the FTC cannot possibly police that. “The Federal Trade Commission will not be able to fill the gap created by the FCC’s abdication of its authority and sector-specific mandate,” said McSweeney.
McSweeney’s views are not echoed by her colleague, Republican and Acting Chair, Maureen K. Ohlhausen, who praised the vote in her statement, saying that the decision by the FCC means the FTC can once again protect consumers and enable competition.
“The FTC is ready to resume its role as the cop on the broadband beat,” said Ohlhausen, adding, “Together we will move ahead to protect consumers and help ensure they enjoy the many benefits of online innovation.”
Clymer is not so sure. In an interview with MSNBC, she argued that it was unclear how the FTC planned to hold providers accountable saying that in all likelihood, rules could not be enforced until after something unfair happened to the consumer. Even then, the burden would be on the consumer to prove that they were the victim of an unfair practice.
“And who knows what fair will be?” Clymer told MSNBC.
Federal Communications Commission Chair, Ajit Pai who championed the dismantling of net neutrality. Image via Twitter @thehill.
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