The Federal Communications Commission voted on Thursday to dismantle landmark rules regulating the businesses that connect consumers to the internet, granting broadband companies power to potentially reshape Americans’ online experiences.
The agency scrapped so-called net neutrality regulations that prohibited broadband providers from blocking websites or charging for higher-quality service or certain content. The federal government will also no longer regulate high-speed internet delivery as if it were a utility, like phone services.
Thursday’s vote was the latest battle in a war that dates to 2003 over how to ensure that the internet remains an open network. Over the years, net neutrality has become a rallying cry for liberals and online activists concerned that telecom companies would become powerful gatekeepers for the communications platform of the 21st century.
Dozens of protesters rallied outside the FCC’s headquarters Thursday morning, and demonstrations urging the agency to keep its net neutrality regulations have taken place across the country and online in recent months. Pai’s home in the Washington suburbs has been targeted, and he has said his family has been harassed.
Nearly 24 million online comments on both sides of the issue flooded the FCC this year as it reconsidered its net neutrality regulations. Highlighting the contentious stakes in the fight, millions of those comments appear to be fakes, with some originating from Russia.