Not even a bomb threat and impromptu evacuation could stop the Federal Communications Commission from voting Thursday to repeal net neutrality, setting up another legal battle between the Trump administration and Democratic attorneys general.
The federal panel’s widely expected 3-2 vote, which will give internet service providers the power to control the flow of content to their customers, came shortly after officers cleared the meeting room and brought in canine teams to sweep for explosives.
“At approximately 12:35 p.m. today, a call was received by the FCC stating that two explosive devices were in the building and set to detonate in 30 minutes,” according to a statement from the Federal Protective Services. “The unknown caller stated that there was a device in the hearing room, and the other was at another location.”
After about 10 minutes, officers gave the “all clear,” making way for the real fireworks.
Hundreds of protesters gathered outside the building for an emotional “Save Net Neutrality” rally, while Commissioner Mignon Clyburn accused the FCC of “abdicating responsibility to protect the nation’s broadband consumers.”
“I dissent. I dissent from this fiercely spun, legally lightweight, consumer-harming, corporate-enabling ‘Destroying Internet Freedom Order,'” said Ms. Clyburn, who voted against the repeal. “I dissent, because I am among the millions who is outraged.”
Minutes after the vote, which rescinded the Obama-era Title II regulatory framework over internet service providers, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced he would lead a multistate coalition to “stop the illegal rollback” in court, while Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson said he would file a petition within days.
“The FCC just gave Big Telecom an early Christmas present, by giving internet service providers yet another way to put corporate profits over consumers,” Mr. Schneiderman said in a statement.
Meanwhile, Republican commissioners hailed the repeal as a victory for consumers, arguing that they will benefit from the increased innovation and investment expected to follow the lifting of the weighty 2015 regulations and return of the “light touch” approach.
“This is a great day for consumers, for innovation and for freedom,” said Commissioner Brendan Carr. “For reversing the Obama-era FCC’s unprecedented decision to apply Title II regulations to the internet. I’m proud to help end this two-year experiment with heavy-handed regulation, this massive regulatory overreach.”
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai called the 2015 ruling “a mistake.” He pointed out that the internet grew and thrived for nearly 20 years before the implementation of net neutrality under pressure from the Obama White House.
“For one thing, there was no problem to solve. The internet wasn’t broken in 2015,” said Mr. Pai. “We were not living in some digital dystopia. To the contrary, the internet has been one thing, perhaps the only thing in American society, that we can all agree has been a stunning success. Not only was there no problem, the solution hasn’t worked.”
He said the net neutrality regulations governing internet service providers such as Comcast and Verizon have depressed investment, particularly in the case of smaller companies that don’t have the “time, money or lawyers to navigate the thicket of rules.”
Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, who voted against the deregulation, warned that “broadband providers will get extraordinary new power from this agency.”
“They will have the power to block websites, throttle services and censor online content,” Ms. Rosenworcel said. “They will have the right to discriminate and favor the internet traffic of those companies with whom they have pay-for-play arrangements and the right to consign all others to a slow and bumpy road.”
Mr. Carr pushed back against those he described as “fanning false flames of fear” with their “apocalyptic rhetoric,” pointing out that the repeal restores oversight authority over broadband providers to the Federal Trade Commission.
“This is no free-for-all. This is no ‘Thunderdome.’ The FCC is not killing the internet,” he said.
He and others argued that if internet service providers were bent on throttling free speech and gouging consumers, they could have done so before 2015.
As Commissioner Michael O’Rielly put it, “The internet has functioned without net neutrality rules far longer than with them.
“The legend of a cable company trying to break the internet may make a scary bedtime story for children of telecom geeks, but it isn’t reality,” said Mr. O’Rielly. “For those of you out there that are fearful for what tomorrow may bring, please take a deep breath. This decision will not break the internet. What we are doing is reverting back to the highly successful bipartisan governmental approach that existed before 2015.”
Supporters of net neutrality insisted that they have only begun to fight. Ms. Clyburn said she will hold a Twitter town hall on Tuesday, and Ms. Rosenworcel predicted either Congress or the courts would eventually restore net neutrality.
Americal Civil Liberties Union senior policy analyst Jay Stanley urged fans of net neutrality to pressure Congress to use the Congressional Review Act to “nuke” the “misguided agency rules.”
“This is a battle in the war for an open internet, and we have lost this battle but we have not lost the war,” Mr. Stanley said in a video. “Nobody should go away thinking network neutrality is dead.”
Mr. Schneiderman had asked the FCC to delay a vote after he said he found as many as 2 million comments on the proposed net neutrality rule-making submitted that falsely used the identities of real New Yorkers and other Americans, including dead people.
Mr. Pai has said his focus was on the quality of the comments, not the quantity, while the National Legal and Policy Center said it found as many comments in favor of net neutrality as against it in its forensic analysis of the phony filings.
Mr. Schneiderman “would have you believe that only anti-net-neutrality messages were fraudulent, when in fact we found that millions, and perhaps a majority, of the pro-net neutrality comments were counterfeit. It is obvious that there were fake filings on both sides,” said National Legal and Policy Center President Peter Flaherty.
Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Republican, who dubbed net neutrality “Obamacare for the internet,” commended the FCC for removing the regulations that gave “sweeping power to unelected bureaucrats who would have the ability to dictate every aspect of the internet.”
“Moving forward, the message for government regulators and Congress should be simple: The internet should be free of taxation, censorship and regulation,” said Mr. Cruz. “Simply put, leave the internet alone.”
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