The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has voted to repeal its landmark net neutrality protections, capping off a months-long campaign by the agency’s Republicans to deregulate the broadband industry.
The FCC voted 3-2 along party lines Thursday to scrap its 2015 Open Internet Order as Democratic lawmakers and dozens of activists protested outside.
In a dramatic moment, the meeting was abruptly evacuated in the middle of FCC Chairman Ajit Pai's remarks ahead of the vote.
Reporters and attendees were forced to exit the hearing room and leave their belongings as police brought in K-9 units to sweep the room. Attendees were allowed to re-enter the room within 15 minutes of the evacuation.
The FCC declined to comment on the reasons for the evacuation.
Democrats, consumer groups and tech companies have been rallying for months to try to stop the repeal plan, arguing that the rules are essential for preventing companies like Comcast and Verizon from abusing their powers as internet gatekeepers.
"As a result of today’s misguided action, our broadband providers will get extraordinary new power from this agency," said Jessica Rosenworcel, a Democrat on the commission who voted against the repeal.
"They will have the power to block websites, throttle services and censor online content. They will have the right to discriminate and favor the internet traffic of those companies with whom they have pay-for-play arrangements and the right to consign all others to a slow and bumpy road," Rosenworcel said.
Despite the outcry surrounding his repeal proposal, Pai was unwavering in his opposition to the 2015 rules. Since his time as a minority commissioner under the Obama administration, Pai has argued the FCC overstepped when it imposed the restrictions.
"Following today’s vote, Americans will still be able to access the websites they want to visit. They will still be able to enjoy the services they want to enjoy," Pai said during Thursday's open meeting. "There will still be cops on the beat guarding a free and open internet. This is the way things were prior to 2015, and this is the way they will be once again."
The rules required internet service providers to treat all websites equally, banning them from blocking or throttling certain content or creating internet “fast lanes.”
Under the new regime, broadband companies will have to disclose publicly whether they engage in those practices. And, as Pai argues, the industry will not have a free pass because the Federal Trade Commission will have the authority to sue providers that deceive their consumers or use their powers to abuse competition on the web.
“Today’s vote represents a departure from more than a decade of broad, bipartisan consensus on the rules governing the internet,” said Michael Beckerman, CEO of the Internet Association trade group, which represents tech giants like Facebook, Google and Amazon. “Relying on [internet service providers] to live up to their own ‘promises’ is not net neutrality and is bad for consumers.”
Pai said that his decision would require internet service providers to be transparent in how they treat web traffic, arguing that those companies will be subject to tougher disclosure requirements than any faced by internet giants. The FCC chairman has argued that companies like Facebook, Google and Twitter are greater threats to an open internet than broadband providers.
In recent weeks, Pai has defended his plan by arguing that Silicon Valley titans represent a bigger threat to the open internet, noting their opaque decisionmaking processes when it comes to moderating users’ content.
“Oh, that’s absurd,” Rep. Ro KhannaRohit (Ro) KhannaSmall ranchers say Biden letting them get squeezed Sanders, 50 Democrats unveil bill to send N95 masks to all Americans Overnight Health Care — Insurance will soon cover COVID-19 tests MORE (D-Calif.), whose district includes much of Silicon Valley, said in response to that during an interview with The Hill this week. He called Pai’s arguments “disingenuous.”
“There’s a total difference in terms of the essential necessity of having access to the internet, versus having access to a particular platform. Facebook and Google aren’t providing the gateway of access to the internet, that’s a whole different thing,” he said.
Thursday’s vote is unlikely to end the fight over the popular consumer protections. Public interest groups have already vowed to challenge the move in court and Democrats plan to push legislation that would block it from going into effect as Republicans renew their calls for a legislative compromise that would put the issue to rest.
Minutes after the vote, multiple state attorneys general, including those from Washington and New York promised to sue the FCC to overturn the ruling.
“Donald TrumpDonald TrumpFormer New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver dead at 77 Biden, Democrats losing ground with independent and suburban voters: poll Bipartisan Senate group discusses changes to election law MORE’s FCC made an historic mistake today by overturning its net neutrality rules, and we cannot let it stand,” said Sen. Ed MarkeyEd MarkeyBiden comments add momentum to spending bill's climate measures Overnight Energy & Environment — Starting from 'scratch' on climate, spending bill Overnight Health Care — White House boosts mask availability MORE (D-Mass.), who on Thursday introduced legislation that would reinstate the rules. “We will fight the FCC’s decisions in the courts, and we will fight it in the halls of Congress.”
- This story was updated at 1:49 P.M. EST.