FCC Votes to Undo Net Neutrality Rules

The Federal Communications Commission has officially begun undoing net neutrality rules the agency passed two years ago.

The FCC voted 2-1, along political party lines Thursday, to begin a rule-making process to replace the Open Internet order, or net neutrality rules, adopted in 2015 by the agency, then headed by Chairman Tom Wheeler, a Democrat.

Those original rules included provisions preventing Internet service providers (ISPs) from blocking or throttling legal content users sought to access, as well as preventing ISPs from accepting payment to prioritize some data.

The 2015 rules derive the FCC enforcement power from regulations formulated for telephone companies within The Communications Act of 1934. Republicans have called such regulation as heavy-handed and burdensome for ISPs.

“Today, we propose to repeal utility-style regulation of the Internet. We propose to return to the Clinton-era light-touch framework that has proven to be successful,” said Chairman Ajit Pai, a Republican appointed to head the FCC in January by President Trump. “And we propose to put technologists and engineers, rather than lawyers and accountants, at the center of the online world. The evidence so far strongly suggests that this is the right way to go.”

Pai and Commissioner Michael O’Rielly, also a Republican, voted to adopt the measure, while Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, a Democrat, voted against it. All three basically reversed roles from the 2015 vote in which Democrats, including Wheeler and then-Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, passed regulations supported by President Obama. President Trump has opposed the 2015 rules.

For Internet users devoted to streaming media, Thursday’s move won’t result in an immediate change, though there’s likely to be plenty of noise about it online and possibly on the airwaves. Thursday’s passage starts a three-month public comment period. Initial comments must be filed within 60 days, July 17, with another 30 days for replies to those by Aug. 16. HBO host John Oliver has been urging viewers to comment on the FCC’s website in support of the existing rules. His exhortations may be behind a surge in comments from 30,000 on May 8 to over 1.6 million this week.

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SOURCE: USA Today, Mike Snider