The Federal Communications Commission’s major vote is mere hours away. On Thursday, the five members of the FCC board will vote on whether to end net neutrality, the principle that internet service providers cannot provide preferential access to certain sites or force consumers to pay for faster access to specific content. The vote could end the internet as we know it.
To watch the vote livestream, click here to view the meeting on the official government feed. The meeting will run from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Eastern time. Fourth on the agenda out of seven items is the “Restoring Internet Freedom” item, with docket number 17-108.
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, a Donald Trump appointee, is behind the plan, which would reverse the FCC’s 2015 decision to officially reclassify the internet as a utility, making it subject to more stringent regulations. The five-person board includes three Republicans and two Democrats, who are expected to vote along party lines in favor and in opposition, respectively. As such, barring a shock turn of events, the plan will likely prevail three votes to two.
While Pai has argued his plan would simply move the internet back to the “light touch” regulations that were in place before 2015, part of the reason for that change two years ago was that the FCC had to respond to court decisions that said it could no longer legally enforce net neutrality under those less stringent rules. That’s why Thursday’s vote threatens to create a whole new internet, one where ISPs like Verizon, AT&T, and Comcast have disproportionate power.
Pai has given few substantive interviews about his plans since introducing them just before Thanksgiving, though this Wednesday did see him appear in a bizarre, misleading video from the conservative site The Daily Caller in which he claimed everyone’s favorite memes would survive the end of net neutrality.
Plans to reverse net neutrality have come under intense criticism from internet communities, who fear a service split into tiers with service providers choosing which websites to prioritize in terms of traffic bandwidth. A public consultation on the issue was highly criticized, after it was revealed that a number of comments appeared to come from automated services.
Communities have carried out a number of days of action in protest of the plan. Two organized Reddit days, November 21 and December 1, saw a huge uptick in viral content on the front page relating to the cause, particularly notable as even the Super Bowl didn’t receive as much attention. A number of protests at Verizon stores across the United States have drawn attention to the fact that Pai used to work as a lawyer for the carrier.
The group Voices for Internet Freedom plans to hold a protest outside the FCC during the meeting, with Democratic representatives like Maxine Waters and Keith Ellison in attendance. The activist site Battle for the Net has some information on last-minute work net neutrality supporters can do from theiromes, including calling their senator or representative if they support Pai’s plan.
Read the description of the agenda item for the FCC meeting below.
The Commission will consider a Declaratory Ruling, Report and Order, and Order that will restore Internet Freedom by returning broadband Internet access service to its prior classification as an information service, and reinstate the private mobile service classification of mobile broadband Internet access service. The item also will eliminate the Commission’s vague and expansive Internet Conduct Standard, along with the bright-line rules. Additionally, it will modify the transparency rule to promote additional transparency, while eliminating burdensome and unnecessary requirements.