On Thursday, the Federal Communications Commission voted to repeal net neutrality in a narrow, party-line vote. The three Republican appointees to the commission all voted to abolish net neutrality rules, which require internet service providers to treat all online content equally with regard to bandwidth speeds. The only two women on the commission, Democratic appointees Jessica Rosenworcel and Mignon Clyburn, were the only people who voted against net neutrality repeal.
"Without net neutrality rules, we will provide our broadband providers with the power and authority to block websites, to throttle services, and to censor and manipulate online content — to change the open internet we know," Rosenworcel said in an interview with The Verge before the vote. "And the consequences for all of us who count on being able to go where we want, and do what we want without our broadband provider in the way, could be big."
Rosenworcel was appointed by President Barack Obama in 2011 to serve on the FCC. The Senate confirmed her the next year, and President Trump reappointed her to another five-year term in 2017. She is an attorney who served as legal counsel to the U.S. Senate's Commerce Committee, which handles internet-related legislation, before joining the FCC. She was also the legal counsel to a previous FCC commissioner, Michael Copps.
Clyburn has been serving on the FCC since 2009, when Obama appointed her to serve out the remaining term of a commissioner who'd recently left the commission. She was reappointed to a full term in 2012, and briefly served as acting chairwoman of the commission. Clyburn is the daughter of South Carolina Congressman Jim Clyburn, and before joining the FCC, served as a member of the Public Service Commission of South Carolina, including a two-year stint as its chairwoman. Before that, she was the publisher and general manager of The Coastal Times, a small, family-owned newspaper in Charleston that focused on issues concerning black communities.
"I do not believe that there are any FCC or Congressional offices immune to the deluge of consumer outcry," Clyburn said in an impassioned defense of net neutrality moments before the vote. "Why such a bipartisan outcry? Because the large majority of Americans are in favor of keeping strong net neutrality rules in place. The sad thing about this commentary, it pains me to say, is what I can only describe as the new norm at the FCC: a majority that is ignoring the will of the people. A majority that will stand idly by while the people they serve lose."
The FCC is required to have no more than three members from the same party; because the president appoints FCC commissioners, this usually means that the party in control of the White House has a majority on the FCC. Ajit Pai, the current FCC chairman, was appointed by Obama to serve in the minority on the commission, but ascended to the chairmanship after Donald Trump became president.
Net neutrality prohibits internet service providers from "playing favorites" with regard to content — that is, slowing down access to certain websites and apps while speeding up access to others. During the Obama presidency, the FCC established rules that guaranteed net neutrality, but the commission struck down those rules on Thursday. Although it's impossible to predict precisely how the new rules will affect internet access for the average user, critics suspect that they'll result in higher prices for certain online services and less competition in online industries in general.
Although Rosenworcel and Clyburn were clearly unhappy with the outcome of Thursday's vote, both expressed optimism in their dissenting opinions that net neutrality may live to see another day.
"I’m not going to give up — and neither should you," Rosenworcel said. "If the arc of history is long, we are going to bend this toward a more just outcome. In the courts. In Congress. Wherever we need to go to ensure that net neutrality stays the law of the land."