The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has voted along party lines to undo sweeping Obama-era “net neutrality” rules that guaranteed equal access to the internet.
The agency’s Democratic commissioners dissented in the 3-2 vote Thursday.
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, a Republican who says his plan to repeal net neutrality will eliminate unnecessary regulation, called the internet the “greatest free-market innovation in history.”
He added that it “certainly wasn’t heavy-handed government regulation” that’s been responsible for the internet’s “phenomenal” development.
“Quite the contrary,” he said.
“What is the FCC doing today?” he asked. “Quite simply, we are restoring the light-touch framework that has governed the internet for most of its existence.”
The FCC’s new rules could usher in big changes in how Americans use the internet. The agency is getting rid of rules that barred companies like Comcast, AT&T and Verizon from playing favourites with internet apps and sites.
Broadband providers, Pai said, will have stronger incentives to build networks, especially in underserved areas. Ending 2015 net neutrality rules will lead to a “free, more open internet,” he added.
“The sky is not falling, consumers will remain protected and the internet will continue to thrive.”
The broadband industry promises the internet experience isn’t going to change. But protests have erupted online and in the streets as everyday Americans worry cable and phone companies will be able to control what they see and do online.
Net-neutrality supporters plan legal challenges. Some Democrats hope to ride that wave of public opinion into the 2018 elections.
Chris Lewis, of Public Knowledge which supports open internet, says the net neutrality fight isn’t over. Watch below.
The FCC meeting was abruptly halted shortly before 1 p.m. during Pai’s remarks and before the vote on net neutrality could take place.
“On the advice of security, we need to take a brief break,” he said.
Then the meeting’s live feed cut out. Representatives for the FCC could not immediately be reached for comment via email and phone.
Security officials evacuated the hearing room and searched it, and then allowed everyone back in.
What does FCC vote on net neutrality mean for Canadians? Watch below.