FCC moves one step closer to undoing net neutrality rules

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The Obama administration’s rules intended to ensure net neutrality are on their way out after the Federal Communications Commission voted Thursday to begin implementing Chairman Ajit Pai’s plans to scrap the regulations.

The FCC voted 2-1 to start a formal process to proceed with Pai’s changes and dismantle regulations put in place two years ago to ensure all Internet traffic is treated equally. This includes a reversal of the Title II designation that prohibits Internet service providers from throttling or blocking traffic while offering fast lanes for those that pay.

In a statement Pai said, “Today’s notice is the start of a new chapter in the public discussion about how we can best maintain a free and open internet while making sure that ISPs have strong incentives to bring next-generation networks and services to all Americans.”

The new plan has met a barrage of criticism, mostly referring to the possibilities of ISPs abusing their power and smaller players of content services losing out. Critics have also said they’re wary of putting free speech in the hands of ISPs.

In 2015 activists successfully fought against lobbyists for some of the biggest cable companies in the U.S., but it’s now looking almost certain their efforts will be undone. The proposed new rules will now be scrutinized under a process period, with the public’s comments taken into account. After thay the FCC will vote again, but whatever the decision, court appeals will likely ensue.

Democratic FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn voted against Pai’s proposals, stating that the new conditions would almost certainly mean no FCC oversight whatsoever. She believes that the notice of proposed rulemaking voted for on Thursday translates to what she called destroying Internet freedom. “If ratified, it will deeply damage the ability of the FCC to be a champion of consumers and competition in the 21st century,” Clyburn said.

Telecom industry leaders were happy with the outcome of the vote. Comcast Charter Communications Inc.’s Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer David Cohen said the new proposals had been misunderstood and were not intended to eliminate Internet protection. “The purpose is to find a path to protect the openness of the Internet without reliance on the dangerous and inappropriate Title II as the source of authority for such rules,” Cohen wrote in a post on Comcast Voices.

Image: Tony Webster via Flickr