The Federal Communications Commission in the United States has voted to repeal 2015 protections on Net Neutrality, leaving the future of the web uncertain.
Despite months of public protests and objections from the biggest web companies on the planet, the Obama-era laws have been struck down.
Controversial FCC chairman Ajit Pai voted in favour of ending Net Neutrality, along with two fellow Republican commissioners.
As widely expected, the vote passed 3-2, with only the two Democratic commissioners standing against the changes.
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As a result of the vote, the internet will no longer have Title II protections, meaning that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) will have much more power over what consumers can access, and at what speed.
For example — in the worst case scenario floated by proponents of a free and open internet — web users may need to pay extra to access premium sites like Netflix, in the same way they pay cable providers to access premium television channels like HBO.
ISPs will also have the power to throttle services from rival companies in order to give its own platforms an advantage.
So, if it chose to, the Comcast XFINITY broadband service could limit speeds at which customers can access the DirecTV Now streaming service, owned by its big rival AT&T.
Wrong side of history
In a statement, Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, a Democrat who voted in vain to maintain the current protections, wrote: “Net neutrality is internet freedom. I support that freedom. I dissent from this rash decision to roll back net neutrality rules. I dissent from the corrupt process that has brought us to this point. And I dissent from the contempt this agency has shown our citizens in pursuing this path today.
“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.”
The FCC has long brushed aside protestors’ fears that repealing the laws would result in the a dramatic shift in the way the net operates.
In a press release outed by the Commission following the vote, it said the ruling simply returned the conditions in place before the 2015 regulations were passed.
The FCC says the repeal will benefit competition in the marketplace and give the Federal Trade Commission more power to step in when providers misbehave.
The release read: “Following detailed legal and economic analysis, as well as extensive examination of comments from consumers and stakeholders, the Commission reversed the FCC’s 2015 heavy-handed utility-style regulation of broadband Internet access service, which imposed substantial costs on the entire Internet ecosystem. In place of that heavy-handed framework, the FCC is returning to the traditional light-touch framework that was in place until 2015.
“Moreover, the FCC today also adopted robust transparency requirements that will empower consumers as well as facilitate effective government oversight of broadband providers’ conduct. In particular, the FCC’s action today has restored the jurisdiction of the Federal Trade Commission to act when broadband providers engage in anticompetitive, unfair, or deceptive acts or practices.”
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