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FCC votes to start rolling back landmark net neutrality rules

Published May 18, 2017 11:33 am
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Washington • The Republican-led Federal Communications Commission voted Thursday to begin undoing a key decision from the Obama era. The move highlights the uphill battle for Democrats and consumer advocates, who say that weaker rules could allow Internet service providers to abuse their position as gatekeepers between customers and the rest of the Internet. The current net neutrality rules make it illegal for Internet service providers to block or slow down websites for consumers.

ISPs have argued that softening the rules would help them to continue upgrading their networks and improve their business models.

The vote enables the FCC to begin taking public feedback on its proposal, which could be revised and put to a final vote later this year.

By a 2-1 vote led by FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, the agency proposed to roll back a 2015 decision to regulate Internet providers like their cousins in the legacy telephone business. The proposal also suggests repealing the so-called "general conduct" rule that allows the FCC to investigate business practices of Internet providers that it suspects may be anticompetitive. And finally, the proposal asks whether the agency should eliminate the most high-profile parts of the net neutrality rules: The rules banning the blocking and slowing of websites, as well as the rule forbidding ISPs from charging websites extra fees.

"Today we propose to repeal utility-style regulation of the Internet," said Pai. "The evidence strongly suggests this is the right way to go."

The FCC's lone Democrat, Mignon Clyburn, said the decision to revisit the rules was merely the latest in a broader effort by Republicans to undercut its own mission.

"The endgame appears to be no-touch regulation," said Clyburn, "and a wholesale destruction of the FCC's public interest authority in the 21st century."

Republican lawmakers have proposed converting the FCC regulation into a bill of some form, but Democrats — concerned that the results could be much weaker than the current rules — appear unmoved. They are currently gearing up for a grassroots battle similar to the kind that defeated the House Republican health care plan.

"This fight is just starting. Just like in 2014, the public now has the opportunity to stand up, be heard, and influence the outcome," said Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, in a statement. "It will take millions people standing up, just like they did before, to say that the Internet needs to stay free and open."

Internet providers largely hailed the vote, which officially marks a first step toward looser regulations.

"The FCC under Chairman Pai's leadership took an important step today towards returning to the regulatory framework that was so successful for so many years," said Verizon in a statement.




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