The Republican-led Federal Communications Commission voted yesterday to start undoing a key decision from the Obama era, in a move aimed at easing regulations on internet providers.
''Today we propose to repeal utility-style regulation of the Internet,'' said FCC chairman Ajit Pai, The Washington Post reported. ''The evidence strongly suggests this is the right way to go.''
According to the FCC's lone Democrat, Mignon Clyburn, the decision to revisit the rules was merely the latest in a broader effort by Republicans to undercut its own mission.
''The endgame appears to be no-touch regulation,'' said Clyburn, ''and a wholesale destruction of the FCC's public interest authority in the 21st century.''
According to Democrats and consumer advocates, weaker rules could allow internet service providers to abuse their position as gatekeepers between customers and the rest of the internet. With the current net neutrality rules, it is difficult for internet service providers to block or slow down websites for consumers.
ISPs claim that softening the rules will help them to continue upgrading their networks and find new ways of making money.
With the 2-1 vote, the FCC can begin to take public feedback on its proposal, which could be revised and put to a final vote later this year. The 2015 decision regulated internet providers more heavily, using some of the same rules the agency applied to phone companies.
According to commentators, the FCC's move which received overwhelming support from major broadband providers, formed part of a broader effort by Republicans since president Trump took office to undo regulations enacted during the Obama era.
With net neutrality supporters, including senator Edward Markey (Democrat-Massachusetts), protesting outside the agency's building, the Republican-controlled FCC voted 2-1 on party lines to start a formal, months-long process of dismantling the existing rules.
Pai said the goal was ''to return to the light-touch regulatory framework'' that had allowed the internet to flourish.