The chairman of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission is expected to announce plans to repeal the agency's 2015 net neutrality rules on Wednesday.
Chairman Ajit Pai, a Republican, will likely announce a plan to reverse course on the 2-year-old regulations and end the agency's classification of broadband as a regulated, common-carrier service. In a Wednesday speech, Pai will reportedly announce that he is scheduling a vote for the FCC's May 18 meeting to begin the process of repealing the rules.
Pai has called the net neutrality rules a mistake that "injected tremendous uncertainty into the broadband market." President Donald Trump, who appointed Pai as the FCC's chairman, has also criticized the regulations.
The details of Pai's plan are unclear, with several sources saying they have not yet seen the proposal. One plan under serious discussion has the broadband industry embracing self-regulation by promising not to block web traffic. Those promises would then be enforced by the Federal Trade Commission, not the FCC, similar to how the FTC now enforces privacy promises made by other companies.
Under FTC-style enforcement, the FCC or the FTC would not set any industrywide net neutrality rules, instead depending on broadband providers' pledges to avoid blocking or slowing web traffic. A broadband provider could potentially decide to change its net neutrality policy after notifying customers.
Under the FTC, the agency would bring an enforcement action only after finding a broadband provider violated its net neutrality promises.
The FCC's 2015 net neutrality, or open internet, rules reclassified broadband as a regulated, telecom-like service -- as opposed to a lightly regulated communications service -- as the foundation for regulations that prohibited broadband providers from selectively blocking or slowing web traffic and services.
The FCC received about 4 million public comments in the rulemaking proceeding leading up to its 2015 regulations, with the large majority of people supporting strong net neutrality rules.
Broadband providers and Republican lawmakers have opposed the rules, saying the reclassification adds unnecessary regulation that deters deployment and other investment in their networks.
There's little evidence that the rules have hurt investment, however. Broadband providers spent US$76 billion to upgrade their networks in 2015, the second highest total since 2001, according to USTelecom, a broadband trade group.
Net neutrality supporters say a repeal of the rules will give broadband providers more control over what websites customers visit and what web services they use. Broadband providers could slow traffic to services that compete with products they own or partner with, or they could charge websites for fast-lane access to customers, supporters fear.
Pai "is determined to give control of the internet to companies like Comcast, AT&T, and Verizon, no matter the cost to our economy and democracy," Free Press CEO and President Craig Aaron said in a statement. "He's continuing to ignore the mountains of evidence showing that the agency's net neutrality rules are protecting internet users while spurring on investment and innovation."