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Why net neutrality could go the way of the floppy disk

The Federal Communications Commission on Thursday took a first step in dismantling rules aimed at deterring broadband providers from tightening their control over the internet.

The agency’s three commissioners voted 2-1 to start the process of repealing so-called net neutrality regulations, which were adopted in 2015. The move is expected to touch off a prolonged legal fight over how the web is regulated. The technology industry, including giants such as Alphabet (GOOGL), the parent of Google; Apple (AAPL); and Facebook (FB), supports net neutrality as a way to ensure innovation, and is aggressively lobbying lawmakers to preserve the rules. 

FCC chief Ajit Pai has said eliminating the rules would boost competition among internet service providers (ISP), benefiting consumers. 

“Whether I am in Red America, Purple America or Blue America, whether I am above the Arctic Circle or in the bayous of Louisiana, people tell me that they want fast, affordable, and reliable Internet access,” Pai said in a speech last month in Washington that laid out the FCC’s rationale for striking down net neutrality. “They say that they want the benefits that come from competition. And they tell me that they want to access the content and use the applications, services, and devices of their choice.”

Under current law, ISPs are classified as telecommunication services, a designation that gives the FCC authority to regulate the industry more strictly. Net neutrality aims to block ISPs from giving priority to the content that moves through their pipes. A final vote on the rules could take months and is likely to face legal challenges, experts said. 

“This FCC and the chairman are interested in scaling back regulations, but we don’t know how much they want to scale back,” said Jon Peha, professor of engineering and public policy at Carnegie Mellon’s College of Engineering. “Whatever they decide, it’ll be challenged in court. And we don’t know the outcome of that.”

Repealing the existing net…

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