Rejecting public sentiment and the will of tech companies like Amazon, Google and Facebook, the Federal Communications Commission voted to roll back regulations that keep the operation of the Internet outside the control of cable companies.
The vote does not put an immediate end to the Obama-era legislation that decided to treat the Internet as a public utility in need of government oversight to remain fairly available, as it will head to Congress for consideration.
Just prior to his election as president, Donald Trump issued a “contract with the American voter” promising to cut regulations. The success of the initiative is unclear, but net neutrality and the Environmental Protection Agency seem to have been of particular focus, the latter of which is now headed up by Scott Pruitt. During his time as Oklahoma’s Attorney General, Pruitt was open about his distaste for the EPA’s “activist agenda.”
Undoing net neutrality looks to be the most sweeping deregulation from the administration to date. Should the reversal of the current rules make it through Congress and almost certain legal action, internet service providers like Time Warner and AT&T will have the ability to prioritize certain web sites and charge for services as they wish, including based on performance.
Current FCC chairman Ajit Pai was nominated to the position in January by Trump after serving on the FCC commission under former President Barack Obama, and in April he proposed an end to net neutrality rules. Pai said in a speech that the rollback is “basic economics” and the rules were based on “hypothetical harms and hysterical prophecies of doom.”
During Thursday’s FCC meeting and vote on the rules, Pai stayed that line, and said without net neutrality rules in place, the Internet will simply go back to the way it operated in 2015, before the rules were enacted.
“The Internet wasn’t broken in 2015,” Pai said Thursday. “We were not living in a digital dystopia.”
But Internet-dependent tech companies like Amazon, Etsy, Twitter, Netflix, Tumblr, Google, Facebook and many others, view the prospect of Internet providers again getting to regulate themselves as more than likely to stratify access to the Internet for their companies, the public and entrepreneurs.
All of those companies are part of the Internet Association, a lobbying group that said the FCC’s vote is poised to “gut” net neutrality protections.
“Today’s vote represents a departure from more than a decade of broad, bipartisan consensus on the rules governing the internet,” the group said immediately after Thursday’s vote. “Let’s remember why we have these rules in the first place. There is little competition in the broadband service market — more than half of all Americans have no choice in their provider — so consumers will be forced to accept [internet service provider] interference in their online experience. This is in stark contrast to the websites and apps that make up Internet Association, where competition is a click away and switching costs are low.”
The group went on to note that “the fight isn’t over” and that it is considering legal action as the issue moves toward action by Congress. Meanwhile, none of the companies it represents have individually commented on the FCC vote.
Groups representing retailers like the National Retail Federation and the Retail Industry Leaders Association, declined and could not be reached for comment, respectively.
But the issue broke the FCC record for public comments received during the open comment period that’s standard for proposed regulation changes, with more than 22 million comments logged. While the comment period is open to all, a recent investigation by New York attorney General Eric Schneiderman found that about 2 million of the comments were fraudulent and filed with fake or stolen identities.
Immediately after the FCC voted to end net neutrality, Schneiderman said he would be leading a multistate lawsuit in efforts to stop the repeal.
In a separate study, Pew Research Center also found that 57 percent of the comments were made with temporary or duplicate e-mail addresses and 38 percent of the votes were made up of the same seven comments. Nevertheless, the comments were found to be largely in favor of keeping net neutrality rules in place.
FCC commissioner Mignon Clyburn cited the millions of people who are “outraged” at the rollback in her dissent during the vote, which Pai interrupted several times with derisive laughter. Clyburn continued with her dissent however, noting the “unprecedented groundswell of public support” for net neutrality rules.
“The public can plainly see that a soon-to-be-toothless FCC is handing the keys to the Internet — the Internet, one of the most remarkable, empowering, enabling inventions of our lifetime — over to a handful of multibillion-dollar corporations,” Clayburn said.