WASHINGTON (CN) – The Federal Communications Commission on Thursday voted 2-1 to repeal net neutrality rules intended to keep broadband providers like AT&T and Comcast from interfering with internet traffic.
Newly appointed FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, who has been a vocal critic of the rules, saying they unfairly restrict business growth, voted in favor of the repeal.
He was joined by Commissioner Michael O’Rielly. Commissioner Mignon Clyburn voted against the repeal.
But it will still be months before the final rules are subject to a vote, and the tech industry, which sees net neutrality as necessary to innovation, considers Thursday vote a political battle joined.
The industry has stepped up its lobbying efforts on behalf of the two-year-old rules and both it and consumers have lodged protests with the agency.
In fact, Pai, a former Verizon attorney, became something of an internet sensation himself when he posted a video on YouTube in which he read and commented on an angry tweet about the net neutrality rule takedown.
“The question that we at the FCC must answer is what policies will give the American people what they want,” Pai said in a speech on net neutrality last month in Washington.
It’s the same point he made to lawmakers on Capitol Hill during his confirmation hearings. And he urged them to embrace the idea of fast and slow lane internet service providers, a concept he said would create an incentive for smaller ISPs to expand their networks and reach new customers.
On Thursday, Clyburn, an Obama appointee to the commission, expressed a far different opinion.
Speaking for over 15 minutes, Clyburn argued that by tossing the net neutrality protections, the FCC would deeply damage its ability to act as “champion of consumers.”
She then went on to dismiss Pai’s argument in favor of doing away with the rules as a “hollow theory of trickle-down internet economics, suggesting that if we just remove enough regulations from your broadband provider, they will automatically improve your service, pass along discounts from those speculative savings, deploy more infrastructure with haste and treat edge providers fairly.”
As Clyburn wrapped up her remarks, Pai turned to those in the meeting room and said, “I guess I can mark you a no, for this one?”
Pai then shared letters from small internet providers who said their businesses were hemmed in the Obama-era regulations.
“Consider for a moment why these statements are so important,” Pai said. “These are the very companies that are critical for injecting competition into the broadband marketplace, the very companies that are critical to closing the digital divide.”
“There is much that sounds fine about your applying the Communications Act to modern communication services, but none about applying the Revolutionary Era First Amendment to speech on the internet,” Clyburn said in response. “The point is this: technology-neutral definitions do not, and it saddens me to say this, should not ever, become obsolete by advances in technology.”