By David Shepardson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The head of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission on Wednesday proposed overturning the landmark 2015 Obama-era net neutrality rules that prohibit broadband providers from giving or selling access to certain internet services over others.
A plan to reverse the rules approved by the FCC under Democratic President Barack Obama is expected to set off a fight over the future of the internet regulation.
Ajit Pai, who was named chair of the FCC by President Donald Trump in January, said at a speech in Washington he was aiming to reverse rules that gave the government greater regulatory powers over internet service providers, arguing they cost jobs and depressed investment.
“Do we want the government to control the Internet? Or do we want to embrace the light-touch approach” in place since 1996 until revised in 2015, he asked.
The rules approved by the FCC in 2015 prohibit broadband providers from giving or selling access to speedy internet, essentially a “fast lane,” to certain internet services over others.
The 2015 FCC rules reclassified internet service providers much like utilities, a decision that could open the door to eventual rate regulation. A federal appeals court upheld the rules last year.
Pai said his proposal will face an initial vote on May 18 but he would not seek to finalize a reversal of the Obama rules until the FCC takes public comment, which could take several months.
The Obama administration rules require broadband providers to treat all data equally, rather than give or sell access to a Web “fast lane.”
Republican FCC Commissioner Mike O’Rielly said on Wednesday, “The previous FCC took internet policy down into a dark and horrible abyss.” He said the FCC will “expunge net neutrality regulations from the Internet.”
Internet providers such as AT&T Inc <T.N>, Verizon Communications Inc <VZ.N> and Comcast Corp <CMCSA.O> have argued that net neutrality rules make it harder for internet service providers to manage traffic and has made investment in additional capacity less likely.
Comcast Chairman and Chief Executive Brian Roberts said reclassification of internet services as a utility should be reversed. He said Pai’s proposal “creates an environment where we can have a fresh constructive dialogue.”
Democratic Senator Edward Markey predicted Pai would face a “tsunami of resistance” to overturning the rules.
The Internet Association, a group representing Facebook Inc <FB.O>, Alphabet Inc <GOOGL.O> and others, said the current FCC net neutrality rules are working and should not be changed. Reversing the rules “will result in a worse internet for consumers and less innovation online,” they said.
(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Tom Brown and Diane Craft)