Washington: The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has voted to roll back "net neutrality" rules adopted in 2015 that required internet service providers to treat all online traffic equally.
In the rules adopted in 2015 under then US President Barack Obama, internet service providers were not allowed to block or degrade access to legal content, applications, services, or non-harmful devices.
In a 3-to-2 vote along party lines, the FCC on Thursday reversed what it called in a statement "heavy-handed utility-style regulation of broadband Internet access service" which "reduced Internet service provider (ISP) investment in networks, as well as hampered innovation, particularly among small ISPs serving rural consumers", Xinhua reported.
At the same time, it restores the classification of broadband internet access service as an "information service" and reinstates the classification of mobile broadband internet access service as a private mobile service, the FCC statement said.
The Obama-era rules also banned the establishment of fast and slow internet lanes in order to favor certain online content over others.
Over the past two years, AT&T Inc. and other broadband providers have challenged the net neutrality rules in court.
Michael Beckerman, president and CEO of Internet Association, a trade association that represents internet companies such as Amazon, Google and Facebook, opposed the FCC's repeal of the Obama-era rules, saying "relying on ISPs to live up to their own 'promises' is not net neutrality and is bad for consumers."
"There is little competition in the broadband service market -- more than half of all Americans have no choice in their provider -- so consumers will be forced to accept ISP interference in their online experience," Beckerman said.
"This is in stark contrast to the websites and apps that make up Internet Association, where competition is a click away and switching costs are low."
Beckerman said his group is currently weighing its legal options in a lawsuit against the new decision.
Jonathan Spalter, CEO of the industry group USTelecom, however, welcomed the move.
"Today, the future of our open, thriving internet has been secured," Spalter said in a statement. "America's broadband providers... will have renewed confidence to make the investments required to strengthen the nation's networks and close the digital divide, especially in rural communities."