Ajit Pai, the Republican chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), announced on Tuesday that the FCC will vote to roll back Obama-era net neutrality rules that require internet service providers to treat all web traffic equally.
Pai in a statement blasted the rules as "heavy-handed, utility-style" regulation of the internet imposed by Democrats.
"Today, I have shared with my colleagues a draft order that would abandon this failed approach and return to the longstanding consensus that served consumers well for decades," Pai said. "Under my proposal, the federal government will stop micromanaging the Internet."
"Instead, the FCC would simply require Internet service providers to be transparent about their practices so that consumers can buy the service plan that’s best for them and entrepreneurs and other small businesses can have the technical information they need to innovate," he said.
The commission will vote on the proposal at its Dec. 14 meeting. With Republicans holding three of the FCC's five seats, the repeal is expected to pass.
Pai said he would release the full text of his plan to the public on Wednesday, but he made clear that he believes the Federal Trade Commission is better equipped to police internet service providers than the FCC.
In a call with reporters, a senior FCC official who spoke on the condition of anonymity said that under the proposed rules internet service providers will be able to block, throttle or prioritize certain web content as long as they publicly disclose that they do so.
The Federal Trade Commission would then be able to take action against providers if they're found to be engaging in anticompetitive behavior.
According to the official, the draft proposal would also pre-empt state and local governments from implementing their own net neutrality rules. He said Congress could choose to replace the FCC rules with legislation but that it wouldn't be necessary since all of the major internet providers have committed to not blocking content.
The move is a win for companies like Verizon, Comcast and AT&T, which would be freed of restrictions on blocking or throttling certain content or requiring websites to buy into internet "fast lanes."
But to net neutrality supporters, repealing the rules means giving those companies a free pass to block, slow or favor certain internet content.
"Our Internet economy is the envy of the world because it is open to all," Democratic FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel said in a statement. "This proposal tears at the foundation of that openness. It hands broadband providers the power to decide what voices to amplify, which sites we can visit, what connections we can make, and what communities we create. It throttles access, stalls opportunity, and censors content."
Internet providers applauded the announcement, saying the industry has suffered under the rules.
“Today’s action will provide tremendous opportunity for American broadband consumers, no matter where they live," said Jonathan Spalter, CEO of the trade group USTelecom. "The removal of antiquated, restrictive regulations will pave the way for broadband network investment, expansion and upgrades."
Republican lawmakers also praised the announcement and called for Congress to come up with a legislative replacement to the rules. Democrats have largely been resistant to such action over concerns that any bill would be a watered-down version of the FCC's regulations.
“The last administration’s approach of regulating the internet with depression era phone rules is deeply flawed," said Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneParnell exit threatens to hurt Trump's political clout Schumer-McConnell dial down the debt ceiling drama McConnell, Schumer hunt for debt ceiling off-ramp MORE (R-S.D.), chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee. "While I support Chairman Pai’s efforts as an improvement, I still strongly believe the only way to create long term certainty for the internet ecosystem is for Congress to pass a bipartisan law.”
--This report was updated at 2:50 p.m.