Economy

U.S. regulators ditch net neutrality rules as legal battles loom

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 in a 3-2 vote marked a victory for internet service providers such as AT&T Inc, Comcast Corp and Verizon Communications Inc and hands them power over what content consumers can access. It also is the biggest win for Pai in his sweeping effort to undo many telecommunications regulations since taking over at the agency in January.

Democrats, Hollywood and companies such as 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. The new rules give internet service providers sweeping powers to change how consumers access the internet but must have new transparency requirements that will require them to disclose any changes to consumers.

The meeting, held amid protests online and in front of the FCC headquarters in Washington, was evacuated before the vote for about 10 minutes due to an unspecified security threat, and resumed after law enforcement with sniffer dogs checked the room.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders told reporters the administration “supports the FCC’s efforts. At the same time, the White House certainly has and always will support a free and fair internet.”

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, a Democrat, said in a statement he will lead a multi-state lawsuit to challenge the reversal.

Shares of Alphabet, Apple Inc and Microsoft Corp moved lower after the vote.

The FCC said the rules would take effect in a few months after the White House Office of Management and Budget formally approves them.

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,” he said.

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