At a contentious meeting Thursday morning, the FCC voted 3-2 to repeal net neutrality rules that prohibit broadband providers from blocking or throttling traffic, and from charging higher fees for prioritized delivery.
The agency's controversial move also prohibits states from passing or enforcing their own broadband laws -- including, in the view of at least one Commissioner, privacy laws. The vote came during a session that lasted longer than 3 hours and was briefly interrupted by a security threat.
The new "Restoring Internet Freedom" order revokes the 2015 net neutrality rules, which reclassified broadband as a utility service and imposed some common carrier regulations on providers.
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, who dissented from the rules two years ago, reiterated Thursday that he believes they are too "heavy handed."
He also suggested that the former net neutrality rules didn't result in an "open" Internet, because they didn't apply to companies like Google and Twitter, which are able to wield control over material on their platforms.
"Edge providers regularly block content that they do not like," he said.
"What is Promoted Tweets but prioritization?" Pai asked. "How does a company decide to demonetize videos from political advocates without prior notice?"
The two Democratic Commissioners dissented from the repeal. Mignon Clyburn, who calls the proceeding the "Destroying Internet Freedom Order," took aim at the agency for refusing to even consider 50,000 complaints by consumers who alleged that their providers were violating the prior order. She said the agency was ignoring evidence that could have undermined its "pre-ordained" decision to repeal the rules.
Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel added that the rollback "puts the FCC on the wrong side of history, the wrong side of the law, and the wrong side of the American public."
"As a result of today's misguided action, our broadband providers will get extraordinary new powers," she said. "They will have the power to block websites, the power to throttle ... and the power to censor online content."
Republican Commissioner Mike O'Rielly said he doubted that any broadband providers would "subject themselves to a PR nightmare" by blocking or throttling traffic. He also said he believes the order prohibit states from passing broadband privacy rules.
Numerous outside groups -- including business organizations like the Silicon Valley trade group Internet Association, rights groups like the ACLU and Amnesty International, watchdogs like Free Press, and lawmakers (largely Democrats) -- opposed the repeal.They argue that broadband carriers shouldn't be able to decide which traffic to put through, or charge companies to deliver in fast lanes.
Net neutrality supporters say they plan to continue fighting, in the courts and in Congress.