Controversial US neutrality ruling likely to bring big changes to how Americans use the internet

The US government has ended sweeping neutrality rules that guaranteed equal access to the internet.

The vote by three to two at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is likely to bring big changes in how Americans use the internet, a radical departure from more than a decade of federal oversight.

The move not only rolls back restrictions that stop broadband providers like Comcast, Verizon and AT&T from blocking or collecting tolls from services they do not like but bars states from imposing their own rules.

The broadband industry promises that the internet experience is not going to change but its companies have lobbied hard to overturn the rules.

Protests have erupted online and in the streets as Americans worry that cable and phone companies will be able to control what they see and do online.

That growing public movement suggests that the FCC vote will not be the end of the issue.

Opponents of the move plan legal challenges, and some internet neutrality supporters hope to ride that wave of public opinion into the 2018 elections.

FCC chairman Ajit Pai, a Republican who said his plan to repeal net neutrality will eliminate unnecessary regulation, called the internet the "greatest free-market innovation in history".

He added that it "certainly wasn’t heavy-handed government regulation" that has been responsible for the internet’s "phenomenal" development.

He said: "What is the FCC doing today? Quite simply, we are restoring the light-touch framework that has governed the internet for most of its existence."

Under the new rules, providers like Comcast and AT&T will be free to block rival apps, slow down competing services or offer faster speeds to companies who pay up. They just have to post their policies online or tell the FCC.

The change also axes consumer protections, bars state laws that contradict the FCC’s approach, and largely transfers oversight of internet service to another agency, the Federal Trade Commission.

Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, a Democrat who was appointed by former president Barack Obama, lambasted the "preordained outcome" of the vote that she said hurts people, small and large businesses, and marginalised populations.

The end of net neutrality, she said, hands over the keys to the internet to a "handful of multibillion-dollar corporations".

With their vote, the FCC’s majority commissioners are abandoning the pledge they took to make a rapid, efficient communications service available to all people in the US, without discrimination, Ms Clyburn said.

AP


 

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