By David Shepardson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Federal Communications Commission voted along party lines on Thursday to repeal landmark 2015 rules aimed at ensuring a free and open internet, setting up a court fight over a move that could recast the digital landscape.
The approval of FCC Chairman Ajit Pai’s proposal marks a victory for internet service providers like AT&T Inc, Comcast Corp and Verizon Communications Inc and hands them power over what content consumers can access.
Democrats, Hollywood and companies like Google parent Alphabet Inc and Facebook Inc had urged Pai, a Republican appointed by U.S. President Donald Trump, to keep the Obama-era rules barring service providers from blocking, slowing access to or charging more for certain content.
Consumer advocates and trade groups representing content providers have planned a legal challenge aimed at preserving those rules.
The meeting was evacuated before the vote for about 10 minutes due to an unspecified security threat, and resumed after sniffer dogs checked the room.
FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, a Democrat, said in the run-up to the vote that Republicans were “handing the keys to the Internet” to a “handful of multi-billion dollar corporations.”
Pai has argued that the 2015 rules were heavy handed and stifled competition and innovation among service providers.
“The internet wasn’t broken in 2015. We weren’t living in a digital dystopia. To the contrary, the internet is perhaps the one thing in American society we can all agree has been a stunning success,” he said on Thursday.
The FCC voted 3-2 to repeal the rules.
Consumers are unlikely to see immediate changes resulting from the rule change, but smaller startups worry the lack of restrictions could drive up costs or lead to their content being blocked.
Internet service providers say they will not block or throttle legal content but that they may engage in paid prioritization. They say consumers will see no change and argue that the largely unregulated internet functioned well in the two decades before the 2015 order.
(Reporting by David Shepardson; Writing by Chris Sanders; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Meredith Mazzilli)