The Federal Communications Commission voted Thursday to start the process of dismantling an Obama-era "net neutrality" rule.
By a 2-1 vote, the Republican-led agency approved a notice of proposed rulemaking titled "Restoring Internet Freedom." The vote will begin a process that will allow people to comment on the proposal through mid-August, when opponents of the change are expected to weigh in.
Only after those comments are taken in and considered will the rule move toward being finalized.
The proposal would undo the FCC's prior move to classify Internet service providers like AT&T and Comcast as Title II public utilities, subject to FCC control. That was done in order to impose more stringent oversight of companies, to ensure they cannot block or inhibit access to certain types of web services from different providers, or create pay-to-play fast lanes for certain content.
Chairman Ajit Pai heralded the return of a "light touch" framework that would put "technologists and engineers, rather than lawyers and accountants, at the center of the online world."
He argued that net neutrality is not only bad for competition and business, including small internet service providers, but also infrastructure investments that would extend Internet connectivity to hard-to-reach rural and urban low-income areas.
"Today's notice is the start of a new chapter in the public discussion about how we can best maintain a free and open Internet while making sure that ISPs have strong incentives to bring next-generation networks and services to all Americans," Pai said.
The sole remaining Democrat on the understaffed five-member FCC panel, Mignon Clyburn, was the only "no" vote, and he slammed the proposal for threatening to destroy "Internet freedom" and pushed back against the majority's assertion that the reclassification would help ailing broadband investment. "I most vociferously dissent from this NPRM because it has every indicia of a political rush job," Clyburn said before the vote.