US agency votes to roll back broadband 'neutrality' rules

Proponents of net neutrality protest against Federal Communication Commission Chairman Ajit Pai outside the American Enterprise
Proponents of net neutrality protest against Federal Communication Commission Chairman Ajit Pai outside the American Enterprise Institute before his arrival May 5, 2017 in Washington, DC

US regulators voted Thursday to scrap a 2015 order aimed at forcing broadband firms to treat all online traffic equally, in the latest turn of the politically charged "net neutrality" debate.

The Federal Communications Commission voted 2-1 to reverse the policy enacted two years earlier and which has been a subject of litigation for a decade.

Backers of argue that the 2015 rules, which are being challenged in court, would guard against powerful broadband firms like Comcast and AT&T shutting out rival services and the creating online "fast" and "slow" lanes.

But others worry such rules were a heavy-handed effort to reclassify internet providers as utilities, and would discourage investment in the fast-evolving sector.

FCC chairman Ajit Pai, appointed by President Donald Trump, has said the change would return to "a light-touch regulatory framework."

An FCC statement said the new plan, when finalized, would support efforts "toward restoring internet freedom and promoting infrastructure investment, innovation, and choice by proposing to end utility-style regulation of service."

The vote, which begins a period of public comment ahead of final implementation, prompted a flurry of reactions on both sides of the debate.

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai  at an internet regulation event at the Newseum in Washington, DC on April 2
Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai at an internet regulation event at the Newseum in Washington, DC on April 25, 2017

Net neutrality has been the subject of legal and political battles for more than a decade, with both sides claiming to represent a "free and open" internet.

Ed Black of the Computer & Communications Industry Association, which represents major tech firms, said the FCC was moving against the public interest.

"It is baffling that the agency charged with protecting consumer internet access would instead kowtow to company threats not to invest in broadband buildout," Black said in a statement.

Democratic Senator Al Franken said, "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."

Cinnamon Rogers of the Telecommunications Industry Association however called the vote "a step in the right direction for restoring sensible rules to govern the ," and said it would "allow industry to further invest in the network and meet the growing demand from consumers for new high-tech products and services."

Meredith Attwell Baker of the CTIA, an association of wireless carriers, said the new framework "will promote billions of dollars of investment, millions of jobs and future innovation."

FCC commissioner Mignon Clyburn, who cast the dissenting vote Thursday, wrote on Twitter: "Yet to see a credible analysis that suggests # provider capital expenditures have declined" since the 2015 order.

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User comments

May 19, 2017
I love my internet, I love everything about it.
But the net neutrality rules, I guess are for someone richer or more influential than me.
To be brutally honest, I have never have seen the slightest change in my service with net neutrality or without net neutrality.
Since someone is making a big deal about it, I can only assume the public is being manipulated into believing the net neutrality rules benefit the public. Please let us know if YOU personally have seen a change in YOUR service or pricing with or without net neutrality.

I guess though, if you have an interest in making money somehow using net neutrality your answer will be less than honest.

May 24, 2017

Imagine that your water company could tell what you use your water for, and could charge you differently for different types of water use. Watering your garden? That's $0.01/gallon. Want a bath? $0.02/gal. If you want to have a shower, that costs $0.1/gal.

And if you want to drink your tap water, it's $10/gal, $29.99 if you want to put it through a filter at home.

Network Neutrality is the principle that, like water, any two megabytes of capacity are the same. Without network neutrality, ISPs will be free to charge extra to create special capacity lanes, and ultimately will charge you more for services they already provide. They will also use this ability to charge extreme rates for services they'd rather not provide -- for instance, a company that provides cable TV and internet will charge very high rates for streaming video.

The people arguing against Net Neutrality are Verizon and Comcast, as well as other ISPs, who stand to make a lot of money.

Jun 21, 2017

The thing that I hate about the water company is I don't have any other choice than to do business with them. If my Internet company is charging me different amounts for different services then I simply choose a different ISP. Or better yet, if I'm getting a screaming deal on Netflix for one but their email rates are unreasonable, I now have two ISPs. The market really does work. We have special rules for utilities because they have a government authorized monopoly. I don't want to see that in the Internet realm.

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