The Federal Communications Commission today voted to allow broadband providers to censor web sites, slow down traffic and charge companies higher fees for faster delivery of their material.
The decision is wildly unpopular with organizations too numerous to count, including consumer groups, online publishers, computer engineers like World Wide Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee, civil rights organizations, city mayors, lawmakers and even libraries. The opponents raised many issues, not least of which is that it's problematic to allow monopoly broadband providers to control people's access to web content.
The Republicans on the agency dismissed all concerns, insisting that deregulation was preferable to rules against censorship.
FCC Commissioner Michael O'Rielly went so far as to say that fears of bad publicity would keep broadband providers from blocking or throttling content -- as if the most hated companies in America have ever cared about their reputations.
Certainly they have not previously managed their networks in ways that suggest a priority on public relations. Consider broadband providers' history of questionable activity: Until 2014, AT&T drastically slowed the mobile broadband service of consumers who thought they had paid for unlimited data. In 2012, Verizon was fined by the FCC for taking steps to prevent people from using tethering apps. That same year, AT&T said it was going to disable Apple's video chat app FaceTime on the 3G network, unless people purchased a then-new "shared data" plan.
Ten years ago, Comcast was caught throttling BitTorrent traffic. The company initially denied doing so, but later said the slowdowns were needed to manage traffic. The company's explanation didn't carry much water with the FCC, which in 2008 -- under Republican leadership -- imposed sanctions. Comcast later convinced a court to vacate the sanctions.
Opponents of today's vote are already planning their next move. They have vowed to challenge the repeal in court and Congress. Sen. Ed Markey (D-Massachusetts) said he plans to introduce a resolution to revoke today's vote under the Congressional Review Act. That law -- which was rarely used prior to this year -- allows Congress to repeal recent regulations passed by agencies.
Earlier this year, lawmakers used the Congressional Review Act to vacate the Obama-era FCC's privacy rules, which would have required broadband carriers to obtain users' opt-in consent before drawing on their web browsing activity for ad targeting.