The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted along party lines Tuesday to uphold its 2017 repeal of Obama-era net neutrality rules.
On Tuesday, the FCC majority opted to leave the order unchanged. Republican commissioners Michael O’Reilly and Brendan Carr were joined by Chairman Ajit Pai, also a Republican, in voting in favor of reaffirming the order, while Democratic commissioners Jessica Rosenworcel and Geoffrey Starks dissented.
The 2015 net neutrality rules barred internet service providers (ISPs) from blocking or slowing internet content or offering paid "fast lanes." Under President Donald Trump, the 2017 FCC order, which took effect in 2018, granted ISPs sweeping powers to recast how Americans use the internet, as long as they disclose changes. ISPs have not changed how users access the internet, but consumer groups fear that they could move to raise prices or slow speeds selectively for some customers.
"It is patently obvious to all but the most devoted members of the net neutrality cult that the case against the (net neutrality repeal) was a sham," Pai said Tuesday.
ISPs and other advocates of the net neutrality repeal say the new rules have boosted investment. Consumer groups and other critics dispute that assertion.
"I believe the Federal Communications Commission got it wrong when three years ago it gave the green light to our nation’s broadband providers to block websites, throttle services, and censor online content. I believe this decision put the agency on the wrong side of the public, the wrong side of history, and the wrong side of the law," she said in the statement.
The FCC decision was criticized by Democratic lawmakers.
Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) said repealing net neutrality would lead to broadband price hikes.
“Without net neutrality protections, it’s just a matter of time before big broadband providers start raising prices, slowing down internet speeds, and making it harder for families, small business, and students to access the opportunities to recover and rebuild from this pandemic. I will not rest until net neutrality is back on the books,” Markey added.
The FCC decision was hailed by some industry groups.
"The COVID pandemic has underscored how our traditional mode of light-touch regulation promotes the ongoing investment required to build innovative, robust, and resilient networks that can meet consumer needs—both expected and unanticipated," NTCA continued.
Many experts frame the issue as one of who ultimately controls the internet, saying net neutrality makes it possible for the government to be in charge, rather than the free market.