As expected, the Federal Communications Commission voted 3-2 Tuesday to affirm its 2017 repeal of the Obama-era net neutrality rules.
The move comes around one year after a federal appellate court largely upheld the repeal, but directed the agency to consider the impact of the repeal on three issues -- whether it affects public safety, the Lifeline program (which subsidizes broadband) and regulations regarding utility poles.
The agency stated Tuesday it “found no basis” to change its 2017 decision, adding that the repeal “promotes public safety, facilitates broadband infrastructure deployment by internet service providers, and allows the FCC to continue to provide Lifeline support for broadband internet access service.”
Democratic Commissioners Jessica Rosenworcel and Geoffrey Starks dissented from Tuesday's decision.
The Obama-era rules prohibited broadband providers from blocking or throttling online traffic and charging companies higher fees for prioritized delivery. The FCC approved those rules in 2015, but voted to repeal them two years later, after a change in administration.
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said Tuesday that the 2017 decision to repeal the former rules “has been increasingly vindicated over time.”
“The internet has remained free and open,” he stated. “The American people can still access their favorite websites. They don’t pay extra to avoid the slow lane. And they don’t have to pay a fee each time they tweet.
Rosenworcel countered in a dissenting statement that the repeal "put the agency on the wrong side of the public, the wrong side of history, and the wrong side of the law."
She added: “The rollback of net neutrality did not get us any closer to broadband for all, despite the lofty promises made by the FCC.”
Proponents of net neutrality blasted the FCC's decision Tuesday.
“This remand order callously dismisses the valid concerns of public-safety officials, competitive broadband providers and millions of disconnected low-income families who can’t afford to get online,” Free Press Policy Manager Dana Floberg stated.
Sen. Ed Markey (D-Massachusetts), who has introduced legislation to restore the former regulations, stated Tuesday he “will not rest until net neutrality is back on the books.”
“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,” he stated.
Pai, who shepherded the repeal, has said the former rules were “heavy handed” and depressed investment.
But net neutrality proponents argue the rules were necessary to prevent broadband providers from limiting consumers' ability to access streaming video, search engines and other online services and content.
Advocates also dispute that the rules depressed investment. The organization Free Press, which evaluated public filings by service providers, concluded that investment by 13 major broadband providers increased in the two years after the FCC passed the net neutrality regulations.
Should Democratic candidate Joe Biden win next week's presidential election, the government could again change direction on net neutrality. The Democratic Party's current platform includes a promise to restore the FCC's “clear authority to take strong enforcement action against broadband providers who violate net neutrality principles through blocking, throttling, paid prioritization, or other measures that create artificial scarcity and raise consumer prices for this vital service.”