The US telecom regulator voted to undo net neutrality rules that force internet service providers to apply the same standards to all data they transmit. Companies will be able to decide how consumers access the internet.

Ajit Pai at the FCC

The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on Thursday voted 3-to-2 along pary lines in favor of rescinding rules that aimed to ensure a free and open internet. Commonly referred to as the net neutrality rule, the FCC’s decision marks a major change to how the internet reaches people.

The US government’s net neutrality policy was first enacted by former US President Barack Obama’s administration in order to prevent internet service providers (ISP) from applying different rules depending on the data they were transferring.

Read more: What are digital rights?

The FCC’s decision on Thursday means that the ISPs such as Verizon, AT&T and Comcast can now determine how consumers access web content as long as they disclose how they limit online traffic and to which web services or sites. The companies will also be able to offer varying tiers of speed and services to customers and slow access or charge more for certain content.

Immediately following the vote, the American Civil Liberties Union and the New York Attorney General’s Office said it will fight the decision in court.

Protesters have rallied for months ahead of the FCC decision to repeal net neutrality, saying it undermines basic rights to internet accessProtesters have rallied for months ahead of the FCC decision to repeal net neutrality, saying it undermines basic rights to internet access

Political opposition

Republican-appointed FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, who proposed ending the net neutrality policy, said the move would lead to more investment and innovation in “next generation” digital services.

“Entrepreneurs and innovators guided the internet far better than the heavy hand of government,” Pai said ahead of the FCC’s vote.

However, dissenting FCC commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel described net neutrality as a freedom. “This decision puts the Federal Communications Commission on the wrong side of history, the wrong side of the law, and the wrong side of the American public,” she said. On Twitter, she called on Americans to continue to fight for open internet.

Today the @FCC eliminated its  rules. That’s bad. But here’s what’s good: This misguided decision awoke a sleeping giant–the American people. And we’re going to keep fighting. In court. In Congress. And we won’t stop until internet openness is the law of the land.

The move has been opposed by Democratic lawmakers, some of whom have promised to try and overturn it in Congress.

Hollywood, business enterprises and major technology companies such as Facebook and Alphabet, Google’s parent company, also spoke out against the FCC’s decision. Tim Berners-Lee, the British engineer who created the World Wide Web, criticized the decision ahead of the vote, saying it undermines the norms that established the internet.

Net neutrality ‘crucial’ for EU

Estelle Masse, a senior policy analyst at digital rights group Access Now, warned that the FCC’s decision showed how quickly governments can undermine one of the foundational precepts of internet access, including in the EU, where there are legal guarantees of equal access.

Read more: Will net neutrality survive Donald Trump?

“Today’s decision shows how fragile net neutrality protections can be. Even in the EU, where we have binding rules, we continue hearing largely unsubstantiated claims from certain parts of the telecoms industry that net neutrality will undermine investments or the development of 5G,” said Masse.

“However, net neutrality is key in protecting users’ right to free expression online as well as promoting competition in the online environment. In this way, net neutrality is crucial for the success of the EU digital single market, which is why Europe must continue protecting this principle and ensuring a robust and harmonized enforcement of the rules,” Masse added.

In September, more than 200 mostly EU companies signed a letter warning against the potential damage of repealing net neutrality regulation.

By upending net neutrality in the US, the FCC's decisions allows telecommunications companies to create fast lanes and slow lanes for services of their choosingBy upending net neutrality in the US, the FCC’s decisions allows telecommunications companies to create “fast lanes” and “slow lanes” for services of their choosing

‘Millions of fake comments’

Several US state attorney generals have expressed their intent to oppose the FCC’s ruling after alleging massive fraud in the public comment process of the decision.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said up to 2 million comments made under fraudulent identities were submitted to the FCC before the decision.

Read more: Is the future of Europe’s internet in danger?

“Millions of fake comments have corrupted the FCC public process — including two million that stole the identities of real people, a crime under New York law,” Schneiderman said.

“As we’ve told FCC: moving forward with this vote would make a mockery of our public comment process and reward those who perpetrated this fraud to advance their own hidden agenda.”

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cmb, ls/sms (Reuters, AP, dpa)



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