In a 3 to 2 vote Thursday, the Federal Communications Commission decided to repeal the 2015 Obama-era net neutrality rules, marking the beginning of a legal battle over the nature of the internet and the power of internet service providers (ISPs), according to a Reuters report. The move has the potential to radically alter the way the internet works, by granting service providers additional power over what content their customers can access online. Trump-appointed FCC Chairman Ajit Pai spearheaded the push for repeal, backed by companies such as AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon, for whom Pai formerly worked as an attorney.
The rules classified the internet as a public utility, stipulating that ISPs must treat all data equally on their networks.
A wide range of interests opposed the change, including Alphabet Inc, Google’s parent company, as well as democrats and a coalition of 18 state attorneys general, who raised concerns that the public comment period for the decision was interfered with by fraudulent commentary. An analysis posted on the site of New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman showed that as many as 2 million fake comments were posted, stealing the identity of real individuals. 5,000 people have filed reports over the fake comments with the attorney general’s office.
“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,” said Schneiderman. “The FCC must postpone this vote and work with us to get to the bottom of what happened.”
Despite this controversy, and protests held in front of the FCC headquarters the day of the vote, the commissions moved forward with the decision Thursday.
According to White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the Trump administration “supports the FCC’s efforts. At the same time, the White House certainly has and always will support a free and fair internet.”
Schneiderman responded to the vote, promising a lawsuit by several states fighting the repeal.
Democratic Senator Ed Markey, of Massachusets, said that he and 15 other senators would introduce a resolution to reverse the FCC decision.
Democrat FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel wrote in a dissent Thursday:
“They have the technical ability and business incentive to discriminate and manipulate your internet traffic. And now this agency gives them the legal green light to go ahead.”
Companies such as Alphabet, Apple, and Microsoft saw the value of their shares drop after the FCC vote.