WASHINGTON — Federal regulators voted Thursday to allow internet providers to speed up service for websites they favor — and block or slow down others — in a decision repealing landmark Obama-era regulations overseeing broadband companies such as AT&T and Verizon.
The move by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to deregulate the telecom and cable industries was a prominent example of the policy shifts under President Donald Trump and a major setback for consumer groups, tech companies and Democrats who had lobbied heavily against the decision.
The 3-2 vote, which was along party lines, enabled the FCC’s Republican chairman, Ajit Pai, to follow through on his promise to repeal the government’s 2015 net-neutrality rules, which required internet providers to treat all websites, large and small, equally. The agency also rejected some of its own authority over the broadband industry in a bid to stymie future FCC officials who might seek to reverse the Republican-led ruling.
The result was a redrawing of the FCC’s oversight powers at a time of rapid transformation in the media and technology sectors.
“As a result of today’s misguided action, our broadband providers will get extraordinary new powers,” said Jessica Rosenworcel, one of two Democrats on the five-member FCC who voted against the repeal.
“They will have the power to block websites, the power to throttle services and the power to censor online content,” she said. “They will have the right to discriminate and favor the internet traffic of those companies with whom they have a pay-for-play arrangement and the right to consign all others to a slow and bumpy road.”
The vote has also cast a spotlight on Pai, who has become one of the faces of deregulation in the Trump era. On the eve of the vote, Pai released a video mocking critics that featured him dressed as Santa, wielding a lightsaber and clutching a fidget spinner to defend his decision to repeal the net-neutrality rules.
“Within a generation, we have gone from email as the killer app to high-definition video streaming,” Pai told an audience at the FCC before of the pivotal vote. “Entrepreneurs and innovators guided the internet far better than the heavy hand of government ever could have.”
Consumers might not feel the effects of the decision right away. But eventually they could begin to see packages and pricing schemes that would steer them toward some content…