The Federal Communications Commission voted 3-2 Thursday to abolish net neutrality rules implemented by President Barack Obama to treat the internet like a public utility.
Controversy and debate in the run-up to the vote were intense, including in Maine where three members of the congressional delegation spoke out against repealing the rules and two of them called for a delay of today’s vote over concerns about fraudulent comments submitted to the FCC.
Net neutrality, a concept set into law under Obama, ensures equal access to the internet for consumers. Repealing the practice would allow internet service providers to block certain content or charge more for various types of internet use. A core fear of opponents is that the price of high-speed access will rise, creating online “fast and slow lanes.”
FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn said the vote would shift too much power from government regulators to already powerful corporations.
“The difference after today’s vote is that nobody will be able to stop them,” Clyburn said.
Proponents of the repeal say it will encourage investment and lift over-burdensome government intrusion in the communications industry.
“In the end, I’m simply not persuaded that heavy-handed rules are necessary to prevent imaginary harms,” said FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly prior to the vote. “This decision will not break the internet.”
U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, disagreed, saying in a prepared statement Wednesday that “the future of the internet is at stake.”
Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King also opposed the repeal, partially on the grounds that they don’t believe internet providers should be able to limit consumer access.
U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, R-Maine, supports the end of the Obama-era internet regulations and said there is no evidence “the worst-case scenarios from the proponents of this rule ever coming to fruition.”
Democratic Maine Attorney General Janet Mills, who supports net neutrality, was one of 17 attorneys general who lobbied the FCC to delay Thursday’s vote. She called the fake comments that were submitted a form of identity theft. Mills said in a news release that her office has received complaints from Mainers who found their names used in the fraudulent comments, but didn’t say how many.
The five-member FCC by rule includes no more than three members of any political party. The current commission includes three Republicans and two Democrats. Thursday’s vote was on party lines, with Republicans in favor of repealing the rules. Chairman Ajit Pai, who spearheaded the repeal, was originally appointed by Obama but was picked to lead the commission by President Donald Trump, who opposes net neutrality.
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