The Federal Communications Commission voted Thursday to dismantle Obama-era regulations on internet service providers, otherwise known as net neutrality rules, which have kept cable and telecom companies under strict FCC oversight since 2015.
The vote was 2-1 along party lines, with FCC Republicans looking to loosen the regulations on the industry, NPR reports.
Dozens of protesters were outside as the vote was happening, urging the agency to stop the proceeding and keep the strict oversight in place, but FCC Chairman Ajit Pai argued that the current rules represented a “bureaucratic straitjacket” on the industry.
“The internet was not broken in 2015,” Pai said, repeating his oft-chosen turn of phrase. “The utility-style regulations known as Title II were and are like the proverbial sledgehammer being wielded against the flea. Except that here, there was no flea.”
The term net neutrality has come to encapsulate the idea that internet providers such as Comcast or Verizon should treat all web traffic equally and fairly. This means they can’t block access to any websites or apps, and can’t meddle with loading speeds. The 2015 rules also included a ban on so-called paid prioritization: the idea that internet providers shouldn’t give special treatment to apps and websites that pay extra.
The FCC’s new proposal—titled “Restoring Internet Freedom”—considers not only whether to undo the legal approach that enforced those rules, but also whether the rules were warranted in the first place. As Pai puts it, the proposal would “return to the Clinton-era light-touch framework.” He has also proposed to stop treating wireless carriers the same as cable providers.
Democratic Commissioner Mignon Clyburn opposed Pai’s proposal and called it “no-touch” rather than light-touch, NPR reports.
“If you unequivocally trust that your broadband provider will always put the public interest over self-interest or the interest of their stockholders, then the ‘Destroying Internet Freedom’ [proposal] is for you,” Clyburn said.
The FCC will collect comments from stakeholders and the public over the next 90 days before drafting a new order and voting to make it law. As NPR notes, more than 4 million comments came in during the 2015 effort to write the net neutrality rules, and most of them were in support of strict regulations.
According to NPR, Congress is deciding whether or not to settle the net neutrality debate through legislation.
Of course, any type of regulations that set aside the rules of net neutrality are almost certain to be challenged in court.
Read more at NPR.