UPDATE 1 – U.S. FCC votes to repeal net neutrality rules

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The U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has voted to end net neutrality, repealing rules passed by the Obama administration which sought to ensure equal access to content on the internet.

During a meeting in Washington, D.C. on Thursday, the FCC commissioners voted 3 to 2 to abolish net neutrality rules by approving the so-called ‘Restoring Internet Freedom’ order. The commissioners voted along party lines; all 3 Republicans voted in favor of the repeal.

Internet service providers, which are currently classified as a utility, will return to their original classification as an information service. This gives companies greater control over customer access to internet content.

In theory, internet service providers would be able to slow down access to competitors or websites which have content they disagree with. It would also allow companies to charge extra fees for certain types of content – for example, by charging extra for services such as Netflix.

The administration of former President Barack Obama passed the net neutrality rules in February 2015 to ensure equal and unrestricted access to the internet. “There are no toll roads on the information superhighway,” Obama said in 2014.

The room where Thursday’s meeting was taking place was briefly disrupted over an apparent bomb threat. The commissioners and those attending were evacuated and police officers with dogs searched the room, but nothing was found. The meeting resumed a short time later.

Thursday’s vote followed strong opposition from public interest groups and internet activists, and polls show Americans are overwhelmingly in favor of net neutrality rules. The U.S. Congress could still act to keep the rules and legal challenges are likely.

Supporters of the change, however, have called net neutrality a regulatory overreach and argue that repealing them will help small companies that provide internet services. They also note that the rules were passed only two years ago and customers are unlikely to see any changes in the near future.

A number of politicians and 18 Attorneys General from across the United States had called on the FCC to delay Thursday’s vote, citing concern that the agency’s commenting system had been compromised.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said on Wednesday that as many as 2 million comments about net neutrality may have been submitted with stolen identities. Nearly half a million comments came from Russian email addresses, according to his office.

Schneiderman, responding to Thursday’s vote, said he will lead a multi-state lawsuit in an attempt to stop the rollback of net neutrality. “The FCC’s vote to rip apart net neutrality is a blow to New York consumers, and to everyone who cares about a free and open internet,” he said in a statement, calling the vote an “early Christmas present” for big telecom.

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