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Unable to prevent the Federal Communications Commission from dismantling net neutrality rules, the two commissioners who planned to vote against the move blasted their colleagues for siding with large service providers over consumers.
The agency was “abdicating responsibility to protect the nation’s broadband consumers” by opting for a “legally lightweight, consumer-harming, corporate-enabling” repeal of prior regulations that barred providers for charging more for faster service or slowing down certain sites, Commissioner Mignon Clyburn said.
While commissioners in favour called those 2015 regulations heavy-handed and unmerited, arguing they stifled innovation and stymied expanded access and noting the web flourished before those new rules came into effect, the FCC’s move to repeal net neutrality rules has prompted a broad public outcry. Internet users, members of Congress, major tech companies and a coterie of internet pioneers have assailed the move.
Referencing what she called an “unprecedented groundswell of public support,” Ms Clyburn argued her colleagues were undermining the public interest.
“The public can plainly see that a soon-to-be-toothless FCC is handing the keys to the internet…over to a handful of multi-billion dollar corporations” who “will put profits and shareholders’ returns above what is best for you,” she said.
“The agency that is supposed to be protecting you is abandoning you,” she warned.
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Calling the repeal process “corrupt,” Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel excoriated “the contempt our agency has shown citizens” as it moved to “burn down time-tested values that have made our internet economy the value of the world”.
She warned that the FCC was discarding a “guiding principle of nondiscrimination” in internet usage, giving a legal foundation for providers’ “business incentive to discriminate and manipulate your internet traffic”.
“Our broadband providers will get extraordinary new powers. They will get the power to block websites, the power to throttle services and the power to censor online content,” Ms Rosenworcel said, allowing them to “favour the content of those companies with whom they have a pay-for-play arrangement” and “consign others to a slow and bumpy road”.
Citing FCC data that she said showed half of American households had no choice of service provider, she warned that “if your provider is blocking websites you have no recourse. You have nowhere to go”.
Ms Rosenworcel and others have argued the FCC should have paused after it emerged that many of the public comments supporting a repeal were fakes duplicates. She noted that 19 attorneys general have backed the call to forestall a vote until the fraudulent comments were investigated and warned “the record has been corrupted”.
“Our process for public participation lacks integrity,” she said.
Both Ms Rosenworcel and Ms Clyburn predicted a vote would not end the debate over internet regulation, with members of Congress contemplating a legislative fix and some advocacy groups already vowing legal challenges.