WASHINGTON — The future of how the internet is regulated could be decided this morning.
The Republican-led Federal Communications Commission is scheduled to vote Thursday on a controversial plan to repeal Obama-era net neutrality protections. The repeal is expected to pass on a party-line vote.
Demonstrators gathered outside the FCC building on Thursday and piled flowers on the ground in an apparent memorial for the internet as we know it.
The net neutrality rules, approved by the FCC in 2015, were intended to keep the internet open and fair. Internet service providers like Comcast and Verizon were explicitly prohibited from speeding up or slowing down traffic from specific websites and apps.
Under the new proposal, the FCC would do away with rules barring internet providers from blocking or slowing down access to online content. The FCC would also eliminate a rule barring providers from prioritizing their own content.
Ajit Pai, the chairman appointed to run the FCC by President Trump, has been an longtime critic of the net neutrality rules. Last month, he pitched his repeal proposal as a way stop the federal government from “micromanaging the internet.”
Pai’s plan has been praised by the telecom industry, which argues the earlier regulation was a drag on broadband investment and innovation. But the repeal plan has been loudly criticized by numerous technology companies and consumer advocacy groups.
The concern among net neutrality advocates is that the repeal could give internet providers too much control over how online content is delivered. It may also make it harder for the next generation of online services to compete, if they have to pay up to be placed in a so-called internet fast lane.
Twitter, Reddit, Kickstarter and other websites posted messages on their sites this week ahead of the vote in support of net neutrality. Protesters mobilized in front of Verizon stores around the country. And some of the creators of the internet penned a letter calling on the FCC to cancel the vote.
On the eve of the vote, Pai attempted to play down these concerns with a series of playful videos in partnership with a conservative news site, suggesting Americans will still be able to binge watch and make memes without net neutrality.
It’s unlikely to defuse the situation. Twitter, Reddit, Kickstarter and other websites posted messages on their sites this week ahead of the vote in support of net neutrality. Protesters mobilized in front of Verizon stores around the country. And some of the creators of the internet penned a letter calling on the FCC to cancel the vote.
Even some members of Pai’s own party have called on him to rethink his plan. Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican from Maine, joined Sen. Angus King, an independent, in a last-minute call Thursday for Pai to cancel the vote.
“This is a matter of enormous importance with significant implications for ouar entire economy and therefore merits the most thorough, deliberate, and thoughtful process that can be provided,” the senators wrote in a letter. “The process thus far in this important matter has not met that standard.”