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'Net Neutrality' Vote: FCC Repeals Rules That Affect Internet Speed

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After a meeting voting to end net neutrality, Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai answers a question from a reporter, Thursday, Dec. 14, 2017, in Washington. AP PHOTO After a meeting voting to end net neutrality, Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai answers a question from a reporter, Thursday, Dec. 14, 2017, in Washington. AP PHOTO

The Federal Communications Commission on Thursday overturned "net neutrality," the regulations ensuring that internet service providers such as AT&T (T), Comcast (CMCSA) and Verizon (VZ) treat all website and content equally.

The meeting was charged, reflecting the public controversy over whether to preserve or eliminate the Obama-era rules. As if to punctuate the drama, attendees at the FCC hearing were forced to abruptly clear the room over unspecified security concerns before Chair Ajit Pai cast his vote.

The debate ran along party lines, with the commission's Republican members voting to unravel the 2015 net neutrality rules and its two Democratic members voting against the measure. In casting the deciding vote, which put the final tally at 3-2 in favor of overturning net neutrality. Pai said, "The sky is not falling, consumers will remain protected."

While internet service companies say consumers won't notice a change, they have also lobbied for net neutrality's overturn, arguing that fewer regulations will allow them to innovate and deliver new services to consumers. Yet net neutrality has become a rallying cry for consumers regardless of political affiliation, with many expressing fears that the end of net neutrality will dampen free speech, create higher costs for consumers and allow ISPs to control what services they use on the internet.  

"We will have a Cheshire cat version of net neutrality," said FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, who voted against the measure. "We will be in a world where regulatory substance fades to black and all that is left is a broadband provider's toothy grin." 

In her comments, which called a "eulogy" to net neutrality, she added, "What saddens me the most today is that the agency that is supposed to protect you is actually abandoning you." 

The proposal will not only roll back restrictions that keep broadband providers like Comcast, Verizon and AT&T from blocking or collecting tolls from services they don't like, it would bar states from imposing their own rules.

Overturning net neutrality won't lead to the problems its supporters suggest, said FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr, who voted in favor of the repeal.

"This is no free-for-all," he said. "This is no Thunderdome. The FCC is not killing the internet." 

Protests have erupted online and in the streets as everyday Americans worry that cable and phone companies will be able to control what they see and do online. The outrage has cut across political parties, with a University of Maryland poll finding that 83 percent of voters are in support of keeping net neutrality intact, with 75 percent of Republicans and 89 percent of Democrats in support of the regulations. 

Pai's supporters say those concerns are overblown, but critics contend the end of net neutrality could create a tiered internet system that would hurt poorer Americans and small businesses, while bolstering the coffers of big businesses like Comcast and Verizon.

That growing public movement suggests that the FCC vote won't be the end of the issue. New York's attorney general, Eric Schneiderman, announced he was launching a "multistate lawsuit" against the FCC's action. Opponents of the move are planning other legal challenges, and some net-neutrality supporters hope to ride that wave of public opinion into the 2018 elections.

Concern about the FCC plan
Pai, a former Verizon attorney who was appointed by President Donald Trump, says his plan eliminates unnecessary regulation that stood in the way of connecting more Americans to the internet. Under his proposal, the Comcasts and AT&Ts of the world will be free to block rival apps, slow down competing service or offer faster speeds to companies who pay up. They just have to post their policies online or tell the FCC.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai says his plan eliminates unnecessary regulation that stood in the way of connecting more Americans to the internet. Under his proposal, the Comcasts and AT&Ts of the world will be free to block rival apps, slow down competing service or offer faster speeds to companies who pay up. They just have to post their policies online or tell the FCC.

The change also axes consumer protections, bars state laws that contradict the FCC's approach, and largely transfers oversight of internet service to another agency, the Federal Trade Commission.

After the FCC released its plan in late November, well-known telecom and media analysts Craig Moffett and Michael Nathanson wrote in a note to investors that the FCC plan dismantles "virtually all of the important tenets of net neutrality itself."

That could result in phone and cable companies forcing people to pay more to do what they want online. The technology community, meanwhile, fears that additional online tolls could hurt startups who can't afford to pay them - and, over the long term, diminish innovation.

"We're a small company. We're about 40 people. We don't have the deep pockets of Google, Netflix, Amazon to just pay off ISPs to make sure consumers can access our service," said Andrew McCollum, CEO of streaming-TV service Philo.

Portugal may offer insight into what types of plans Americans could see without net neutrality. Services slice and dice programs and data by types of applications, such as "messaging" or "music." While Portugal is bound by the European Union's net neutrality laws, it does have some freedom in "zero-rating" plans, or providing data from certain sites or services that might be unlimited as part of a monthly package. 

Protests have erupted online and in the streets as everyday Americans worry that cable and phone companies will be able to control what they see and do online. The outrage has cut across political parties, with a University of Maryland poll finding that 83 percent of voters are in support of keeping net neutrality intact, with 75 percent of Republicans and 89 percent of Democrats in support of the regulations. 

Pai's supporters say those concerns are overblown, but critics contend the end of net neutrality could create a tiered internet system that would hurt poorer Americans and small businesses, while bolstering the coffers of big businesses like Comcast and Verizon.

That growing public movement suggests that the FCC vote won't be the end of the issue. New York's attorney general, Eric Schneiderman, announced he was launching a "multistate lawsuit" against the FCC's action. Opponents of the move are planning other legal challenges, and some net-neutrality supporters hope to ride that wave of public opinion into the 2018 elections.

Concern about the FCC plan
Pai, a former Verizon attorney who was appointed by President Donald Trump, says his plan eliminates unnecessary regulation that stood in the way of connecting more Americans to the internet. Under his proposal, the Comcasts and AT&Ts of the world will be free to block rival apps, slow down competing service or offer faster speeds to companies who pay up. They just have to post their policies online or tell the FCC.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai says his plan eliminates unnecessary regulation that stood in the way of connecting more Americans to the internet. Under his proposal, the Comcasts and AT&Ts of the world will be free to block rival apps, slow down competing service or offer faster speeds to companies who pay up. They just have to post their policies online or tell the FCC.

The change also axes consumer protections, bars state laws that contradict the FCC's approach, and largely transfers oversight of internet service to another agency, the Federal Trade Commission.

After the FCC released its plan in late November, well-known telecom and media analysts Craig Moffett and Michael Nathanson wrote in a note to investors that the FCC plan dismantles "virtually all of the important tenets of net neutrality itself."

That could result in phone and cable companies forcing people to pay more to do what they want online. The technology community, meanwhile, fears that additional online tolls could hurt startups who can't afford to pay them - and, over the long term, diminish innovation.

"We're a small company. We're about 40 people. We don't have the deep pockets of Google, Netflix, Amazon to just pay off ISPs to make sure consumers can access our service," said Andrew McCollum, CEO of streaming-TV service Philo.

Portugal may offer insight into what types of plans Americans could see without net neutrality. Services slice and dice programs and data by types of applications, such as "messaging" or "music." While Portugal is bound by the European Union's net neutrality laws, it does have some freedom in "zero-rating" plans, or providing data from certain sites or services that might be unlimited as part of a monthly package. 

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