Net Neutrality Rules: FCC Votes To Repeal Restrictions On Internet Providers : The Two-Way After a brief security evacuation, the agency voted to undo Obama-era regulations that prohibit cable and telecom companies from blocking access to websites and apps or influencing how fast they load.
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FCC Repeals 'Net Neutrality' Rules For Internet Providers

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FCC Repeals 'Net Neutrality' Rules For Internet Providers

FCC Repeals 'Net Neutrality' Rules For Internet Providers

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/570526390/570927341" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

The net neutrality rules of the Obama era have been revoked. Net neutrality is the idea that Internet service providers, or ISPs, should not favor certain content or websites over others. By a vote of 3 to 2, the Federal Communications Commission voted today to roll back net neutrality rules that were issued in 2015. That vote was long expected.

Over the last few months, net neutrality advocates staged protests and sent millions of comments to the FCC. Many worry that the rollback will allow ISPs like Comcast or AT&T to charge more to access certain websites or to block some sites altogether. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai dismissed those concerns.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

AJIT PAI: It is not going to end the Internet as we know it. It is not going to kill democracy. It is not going to stifle free expression online. If stating these propositions alone doesn't demonstrate their absurdity, our Internet experience before 2015 and our internet experience tomorrow once this order passes will prove them so.

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

Today is just the latest development in a long debate over whether and how to regulate Internet service providers. NPR's Alina Selyukh has covered net neutrality for years, and she is with us now. Alina, just remind us how this debate got started.

ALINA SELYUKH, BYLINE: Fundamentally, this dispute over how to regulate Internet providers goes back to the era of dial-up Internet.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Well, there's a revolution going on in rec rooms, offices and classrooms around the world.

SELYUKH: The Internet was very different. This is - I mean, we're talking late-'90s.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Passing on cooking tips and gossip night and day through a computer network called Internet.

SELYUKH: And the FCC just started figuring out what to do with these new companies. Should they be regulated like telephone companies that have been around for years?

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

WILLIAM KENNARD: Finally as old industry boundaries fade away, the FCC itself must change.

SELYUKH: And in 1999, Democratic FCC chairman under President Clinton, he says, let's go for a light-touch approach.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KENNARD: Simply put, the top-down regulatory model for the FCC is as out of date for the 21st century as the rotary phone.

SELYUKH: And we will not, for now, treat broadband like the old telephone.

MCEVERS: OK, so then this debate goes into the 2000s and around this time, you know, the Internet's changing a lot. And the ISPs really start to push their boundaries, right?

SELYUKH: I think everybody's trying to figure out how they can benefit from what's happening on the Internet. And there's definitely a couple of instances when the internet providers get accused of essentially violating net neutrality principles by the advocates. There's a case of Comcast and BitTorrent traffic, AT&T and FaceTime app. And the FCC just keeps trying to get involved, write some kind of rules or punish bad behavior. And the court keeps tossing out whatever they did. So the FCC keeps searching for solid legal ground to write net neutrality rules into law.

MCEVERS: All right, so it's 2014 at this point. And this seems to be the year when people start to, like, hear about net neutrality and start to care about it, right?

SELYUKH: You know, if you listen to news reports from the years earlier, net neutrality is this, like, extremely painful topic that poor news reporters were just completely struggling to explain.

(SOUNDBITE OF MEDIA MONTAGE)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Now to net neutrality, which has a lot of us here scratching our heads.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: Net neutrality. Now, that's a phrase that some people may not have heard of.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: About net neutrality. Now, it's a very boring term for an important subject.

SELYUKH: And then you get this new metaphor that starts circulating of, quote-unquote, "fast lanes," on the Internet.

(SOUNDBITE OF MEDIA MONTAGE)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: The best way to understand net neutrality is to think of the Internet as a sort of congested superhighway.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: Well, if you think of the Internet like a highway...

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #5: Express lanes on the information superhighway.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #6: And leaving the little guys stuck in the slow lane or never getting off the ground.

SELYUKH: And all this catches fire among these folks who'd never heard of net neutrality, never cared about net neutrality, especially when comedian John Oliver does his 13-minute rant about it.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "LAST WEEK TONIGHT WITH JOHN OLIVER")

JOHN OLIVER: Our top story tonight concerns the Internet, AKA the electronic cat database.

MCEVERS: This is on his HBO show "Last Week Tonight With John Oliver."

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "LAST WEEK TONIGHT WITH JOHN OLIVER")

OLIVER: Our government looks set to end net neutrality. And...

SELYUKH: He explains this whole issue in a very entertaining way and encourages everyone to send comments directly to the FCC.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "LAST WEEK TONIGHT WITH JOHN OLIVER")

OLIVER: We need you to get out there and for once in your lives, focus your indiscriminate rage in a useful direction.

SELYUKH: And this rant sets off a new wave of protests. People are sitting in front of the FCC chairman's house. They're saying no fast lanes on the Internet. And then President Obama weighs in.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BARACK OBAMA: Hi, everybody. Ever since the Internet was created...

SELYUKH: What Obama calls for is the strictest-possible rules for Internet service providers. And he essentially says classify them as utilities.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

OBAMA: In plain English, I'm asking them to recognize that for most Americans, the Internet has become an essential part of everyday communication and everyday life.

SELYUKH: The FCC is supposed to be an independent agency. But there's this huge pressure coming from the public and now from the president. So the agency ends up completely rewriting their approach to net neutrality. They put in place these rules that essentially put really strict oversight over ISPs.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #7: Today, history is being made by a majority of this commission.

SELYUKH: The FCC's vote lands along party lines.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #7: All in favor, say aye.

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: Aye.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #7: Opposed.

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: No.

SELYUKH: The three Democrats vote in favor. There's this picture of the three of them wearing blue. They're triumphantly holding their hands. It was kind of an epic moment for the advocacy groups that have been fighting for these strict rules for years.

MCEVERS: Right. So they vote 3 to 2 and one of those two dissenters - right? - is Ajit Pai, who's now...

SELYUKH: The FCC chairman.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PAI: This order imposes intrusive government regulations that won't work to solve a problem that doesn't exist using legal authority the FCC doesn't have. Accordingly, I dissent.

SELYUKH: He is a free-market Republican and he was saying it then and he's saying it now. He's saying, the rules overstepped authority, and it's essentially government meddling with the Internet to solve a problem that doesn't exist.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PAI: I don't know whether this plan will be vacated by a court, reversed by Congress or overturned by a future commission. But I do believe its days are numbered.

SELYUKH: Than President Trump got elected and essentially promoted Pai. So he's now the FCC chairman and he oversees a Republican majority 3 to 2. And now he has the power to actually act on it, which is exactly what he did.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PAI: With that, we will call the vote. Commissioner Clyburn.

MIGNON CLYBURN: I dissent.

PAI: Commissioner O'Rielly.

MICHAEL O'RIELLY: Aye.

PAI: Commissioner Carr.

BRENDAN CARR: Aye.

PAI: Commissioner Rosenworcel.

JESSICA ROSENWORCEL: I dissent.

PAI: The chair votes aye. The item is adopted with editorial privileges granted as requested.

MCEVERS: So now we are finally to today. What's next?

SELYUKH: I think next, the advocates, net neutrality advocates, are saying they are planning to push Congress for a special vote that might block this FCC decision from going into effect to begin with. A few groups like the ACLU, Public Knowledge are talking about a lawsuit. But, of course, the question that everyone keeps asking me is, what does this mean for me tomorrow for my Internet connection? And the honest answer is we don't really know. The net neutrality advocates are saying we're basically in the territory where people are being asked to trust their Internet service provider to play fair with their competitors, to protect the little startups. The broadband providers for their part are saying they have no interest in aggravating their users by meddling with their Internet traffic. But the law that was requiring them not to do that is going away.

MCEVERS: NPR's Alina Selyukh, thank you so much.

SELYUKH: Thank you.

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