FCC Ends Regulations Protecting Net Neutrality

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The Federal Communications Commission voted today to roll back Obama-era restrictions on broadband internet access, often referred to as net neutrality.

In a statement, the Republican-led FCC said it is “returning to the traditional light-touch framework that was in place until 2015,” while also adopting “robust transparency requirements that will empower consumers, as well as facilitate effective government oversight of broadband providers’ conduct.”

The decision has so far been met with widespread condemnation among politicians, internet users and digital companies alike.

Michael Beckerman, president of the Internet Association, a lobbying group that represents global firms such as Google, Facebook and Amazon, said in a statement: “Today’s vote represents a departure from more than a decade of broad, bipartisan consensus on the rules governing the internet. Relying on ISPs to live up to their own ‘promises’ is not net neutrality and is bad for consumers.”

He added in the statement that the organization is considering filing a lawsuit challenging the changes.

Meanwhile, Congress also has the option to overrule the FCC’s decision under the Congressional Review Act. Multiple lawmakers, including Sen. Ed Markey, have announced today they will introduce a resolution of disapproval, but to succeed, any action would require either presidential support or a two-thirds vote by the House and Senate.

The net neutrality rules, enacted in 2015, prohibited ISPs (internet service providers, such as Comcast and Time Warner Spectrum) from creating fee-based “fast lanes” that give preferential treatment to certain web entities over others.

FCC chairman Ajit Pai, who was appointed in January by President Donald Trump, announced in the spring his intention to review the regulations, arguing that they discouraged innovation and expansion in the broadband industry.

Internet firms have argued to keep the regulations to protect fair play in the digital space. This year, Ryan Babenzien, founder and CEO of the direct-to-consumer Greats brand, told FN: “We believe net neutrality is critically important not only for digitally native brands such as ourselves but for anyone that uses the internet. None of us have a crystal ball, but it’s been my experience that if you allow a company, in this case ISPs, to govern themselves fairly, there is a good chance that they will favor themselves more often than not.”

However, Matt Priest, president and CEO of the Footwear Distributors & Retailers of America, downplayed the impact. He told FN today, “I don’t think the average footwear consumer will see a difference in the quality of their access to footwear e-commerce websites.”

The FCC’s changes won’t take effect until approved by the Office of Management & Budget.