FCC votes to start rolling back net neutrality rules

Ajit Pai will seek to undo net neutrality rules
(Image credit: Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images)

On Thursday, the Federal Communications Commission voted 2-1 along party lines to begin Chairman Ajit Pai's plan to significantly weaken or scrap net neutrality rules enacted in 2015, when the FCC was led by Democrats. After the vote, Pai will begin writing rules to return to what he calls "light-tough" regulations, scrapping enforceable rules to prevent broadband internet providers from favoring some websites and services over others. Pai also proposes to repeal a "general conduct" rule that allows the FCC to investigate potentially anti-competitive business practices by ISPs. This would allow ISPs to charge internet service or content providers for better speed, or throttle sites run by competitors.

Pai argues that regulation has depressed infrastructure investment by large broadband ISPs, using a study commissioned by broadband companies, and said keeping the 2015 open internet rules will dampen innovation and speed improvements. Internet companies like Google and Facebook, and other net-neutrality proponents, say Pai is addressing a problem that doesn't exist, pointing to a study backed by internet companies that shows investment in infrastructure has risen since the news rules took effect. They argue that Pai's rules would allow ISPs to abuse their role as gatekeepers, harming consumers and quashing the open tradition of the internet.

"Today we propose to repeal utility-style regulation of the internet," Pai said. "The evidence strongly suggests this is the right way to go." Mignon Clyburn, the sole Democrat on the commission, disagreed. "The endgame appears to be no-touch regulation," she said, "and a wholesale destruction of the FCC's public interest authority in the 21st century." The FCC is supposed to have five commissioners, no more than three from one party; President Trump, who elevated Pai to chairman, has not yet nominated commissioners for the two absent seats. You can soon comment on Pai's proposed rules here.

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Peter Weber

Peter Weber is a senior editor at TheWeek.com, and has handled the editorial night shift since the website launched in 2008. A graduate of Northwestern University, Peter has worked at Facts on File and The New York Times Magazine. He speaks Spanish and Italian and plays bass and rhythm cello in an Austin rock band. Follow him on Twitter.