The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on Thursday voted to repeal net neutrality regulations stipulating that internet service providers treat all web traffic equally.
The measure was adopted along party lines 3-2, with FCC Chairman Ajit Pai (R) and the agency's two Republican commissioners voting in favor and its two Democratic commissioners voting against.
Thursday's vote faced raging controversy beforehand, and Pai briefly paused the event "on the advice of security" before the FCC formally weighed in on the matter.
Attendees and journalists present at the FCC building in Washington, D.C. were forced to exit the hearing room while police brought in K9 units to sweep the area.
The evacuation ended after roughly 15 minutes, with Pai picking up where he had left off while delivering remarks on the need for repealing net neutrality.
"It is not the job of the government to be picking winners and losers in the internet economy," he said. "What we need is a level playing field."
"It is time to bring faster, cheaper internet to all Americans," Pai added. "It is time to restore internet freedom. After today's decision, Americans will still be able to visit the websites that they like."
"The sky isn't falling. Consumers will remain protected. And the internet will continue to thrive. Our decision will also return regulatory parity to the internet."
The FCC's decision followed months of public sparring over former President Barack Obama's 2015 net neutrality regulations, which mandated that internet service providers treat all websites equally.
The rules banned such providers from blocking, throttling or favoring certain content, and they were also forbidden from creating internet "fast lanes."
The FCC's new guidelines mean that broadband companies will have to disclose publicly whether or not they practice such activities.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) will also now have the authority to sue providers that deceive their customers or use their powers to abuse competition online.
Pai was a FCC commissioner in 2015 when the net neutrality rules were implemented, but Republicans were also in the minority at the time of the vote imposing them.
The Republican has since argued that net neutrality is heavy-handed government overreach which stifles innovation and investment online.
The FCC's Democratic commissioners have countered that repealing the regulations would let major companies like Comcast or Verizon abuse their power by acting as gatekeepers to internet content.
"This decision puts the Federal Communications Commission on the wrong side of history, the wrong side of the law and the wrong side of the American public," FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel (D) said before voting against repeal Thursday.
"As a result of today's misguided actions, broadband providers will get extraordinary powers," she added. "This issue is not going away."
"If you are conservative or progressive, you benefit from internet openness. If you are a consumer or a creator, you benefit from internet openness. If you believe in democracy, you benefit from internet openness."
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai (R) on Thursday said the agency would pause its vote on net neutrality on the "advice of security" amid controversy over the issue.
"On advice of security, we need to take a brief recess," he said as a security guard in the background advised people to leave their belongings.
"Leave everything you have in place, do not take any bags or books or anything," a security guard said. "The only thing that leaves out of here is your body."
Pai had been discussing the FCC's planned vote on Thursday on whether they should lift net neutrality regulations, and it is not clear what inspired the unexpected break.
"Entrepreneurs and innovators guided the internet far better than the heavy hand of government ever could have," he said of the time before former President Barack Obama's administration implemented net neutrality rules in 2015.
"The internet wasn't broken in 2015," Pai continued. "We weren't living in some digital dystopia."
"The internet has been one thing, perhaps the only thing, we can all agree in American society has been a stunning success. We need to empower all Americans with digital opportunity."
Eighteen attorneys general on Wednesday urged the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to delay its vote the following day on net neutrality regulations.
The group asked FCC Chairman Ajit Pai (R) and the agency’s commissioners to “take immediate action” and investigate fake comments tied to debate over the issue.
“A careful review of the publicly available information revealed a pattern of fake submissions using the names of real people,” they said in a letter to Pai and the FCC’s four commissioners.
“In fact, there may be over one million fake submissions from across the country,” the group added.
“This is akin to identity theft on a massive scale – and theft of someone’s voice in a democracy is particularly concerning.”
Wednesday’s letter was signed by attorneys general from Virginia, the District of Columbia, Delaware, Hawaii, California, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Iowa and Illinois.
Attorneys general from Maryland, Maine, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Rhode Island, Washington and Vermont also added their names.
The collection pressed Pai to pause Thursday’s FCC vote over net neutrality rules and instead focus on probing whether fake comments were made during discussion of the topic.
“It is essential that the Commission gets a full and accurate picture of how changes to net neutrality will affect the everyday lives of Americans before they can act on such sweeping policy changes,” they wrote.
New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman (D) last month said his office was examining a “massive scheme” to corrupt the FCC’s debate process on net neutrality with fake remarks.
The FCC Will vote on a proposal to overturn net neutrality rules Thursday, and with Republicans holding three of the agency’s five seats, a repeal is expected to pass.
Net neutrality rules mandate that internet service providers treat all web traffic equally, and supporters say it keeps them from blocking, favoring or slowing specific internet content.
Critics counter, however, that net neutrality regulations are heavy-handed and stifle innovation and investment online.