The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has officially voted to repeal Obama-era net neutrality laws.
The Federal Communications Commission’s four commissioners voted along party lines during today’s Open Meeting, while Chairman Ajit Pai, who assumed office in 2017, cast the tie-breaking vote in favor of formally repealing the net neutrality laws. This decision arrives about 13 months following an appellate court’s ruling on the FCC’s original order doing away with net neutrality. In brief, the court mainly upheld the measure (describing opponents’ arguments as “unconvincing for the most part”), but called “for further proceedings on three discrete points.”
It’s unclear at this time how – or whether – the repeal will affect music streaming platforms, which internet service providers (ISPs) could potentially charge for access to consumers. Moreover, rolled-back net neutrality laws entered the spotlight (and the courtroom) back in May, when two disgruntled Hulu subscribers levied a class-action complaint over the platform’s allegedly “throttling service to computers.”
Both of the dissenting commissioners have taken to social media to address the repeal, with Geoffrey Starks suggesting that the winner of the upcoming presidential election could determine the fate of net neutrality laws. “Our current election may dictate whether we affirm the deregulatory path adopted by the majority or take a different course,” wrote Starks, who the Senate unanimously confirmed in January of 2019.
Jessica Rosenworcel, who initially joined the FCC during the Obama administration and was confirmed for a second term in 2017, bluntly expressed her dissatisfaction with the vote: “Today the FCC doubled down on the mess it made. I dissent.” (As an interesting aside, Jessica Rosenworcel is the sister of Guster drummer and co-founder Brian Rosenworcel.)
Commssioner Brendan Carr retweeted a quote relaying his clear-cut stance on net neutrality, and Chairman Pai highlighted the variety of decisions reached during the hours-long Open Meeting in a tweet. The bipartisan commission also voted to establish the “5G Fund for Rural America,” committing a maximum of $9 billion to bring 5G internet to rural areas throughout the next decade.
On the radio front, the FCC voted unanimously to authorize “all-digital AM radio,” thereby enabling AM broadcasters “to voluntarily choose whether and when to convert to all-digital operation from their current analog or hybrid analog/digital signals.” The digital-AM decision’s formal release emphasizes that stations will have the ability to cover wider areas, specify song titles and artist information, and “better compete in today’s media marketplace.”
Further, the FCC statement notes the relatively low adoption rate of “hybrid” broadcasts among AM stations and outlines rules for the pivot, including measures designed to prevent interference, a mandatory 30-day notification (pre-switch) on the part of stations, and continued participation in the Emergency Alert System.