The Federal Communications Commission voted 2-1 today to move forward with Chairman Ajit Pai's proposal to repeal key portions of the net neutrality rules.
The move formally initiates a new proceeding to evaluate Pai's proposal, named "Restoring Internet Freedom." The agency will accept comments for at least the next three months; after this time it may vote on whether to adopt Pai's approach.
The net neutrality rules, passed 3-2 in 2015, reclassified broadband as a utility service and imposed some common carrier rules on Internet service providers. The regulations include three "bright-line" prohibitions -- a ban on throttling or blocking content and on charging companies higher fees for prioritized delivery. The rules also include a "general conduct" standard that broadly prohibits Internet service providers from unreasonably impeding the ability of consumers and content providers to reach each other.
Pai's proposal involves reversing the decision to classify Internet access as a utility service, regulated under Title II of the Communications Act, and the general conduct standard. The proposal also seeks comment on the "bright-line" rules.
Pai, a well-known critic of the 2015 net neutrality rules, said that today, the agency plans to "conduct a credible cost-benefit analysis of our policy decisions."
"This time, as we make our decisions, we will have our expert staff carefully review the evidence on investment and other variables," Pai said this morning. "We will rely not on hyperbolic statements about “the end of the Internet as we know it” and 140-character commentary, but on the data."
Dissenting Commissioner Mignon Clyburn slammed today's vote. "If you unequivocally trust your #broadband provider to put the public interest over their self-interest then today's @FCC action is for you," she wrote on Twitter.
Digital rights groups likewise criticized the decision. "The internet is designed to serve as an open platform that encourages free expression and sparks new ideas," the Center for Democracy & Technology stated. "Unfortunately, attempts to repeal net neutrality protections are a direct threat to these values and to the rights of internet users."
But Internet service providers celebrated the FCC's move. Comcast executive David Cohen praised the two Republican Commissioners for "remaining focused on creating a light touch regulatory environment that is pro-consumer, pro-investment, and pro-innovation."