WASHINGTON — The Federal Communications Commission voted on party lines to undo sweeping Obama-era “net neutrality” rules that guaranteed equal access to internet.
The agency’s Democratic commissioners dissented in the 3-2 vote on Thursday.
The FCC’s new rules could usher in big changes in how Americans use the internet.
The agency got rid of rules that barred companies such as Comcast, AT&T and Verizon from playing favorites with internet apps and sites.
The broadband industry promises the internet experience isn’t going to change.
But protests have erupted online and in the streets as everyday Americans worry that cable and phone companies will be able to control what they see and do online.
Net-neutrality supporters plan legal challenges. Some Democrats hope to ride that wave of public opinion into the 2018 elections.
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, a Republican who said his plan will eliminate unnecessary regulation, called the internet the “greatest free-market innovation in history.”
He added it “certainly wasn’t heavy-handed government regulation” that’s been responsible for the internet’s “phenomenal” development.
“Quite the contrary,” he said.
“What is the FCC doing today?” he asked. “Quite simply, we are restoring the light-touch framework that has governed the internet for most of its existence.”
Broadband providers, Pai said, will have stronger incentives to build networks, especially in underserved areas. Ending 2015 net neutrality rules, he said, will lead to a “free, more open internet.”
“The sky is not falling, consumers will remain protected and the internet will continue to thrive,” Pai said.
The meeting was abruptly halted during Pai’s remarks and before the vote could take place. Pai said “on the advice of security, we need to take a brief break.”
Then the meetings’ live feed cut out. Security officials evacuated the hearing room and searched it, then allowed everyone back in.