WASHINGTON -- Federal regulators on Thursday took the first formal step toward repealing tough net neutrality rules enacted two years ago that imposed strict oversight of Internet service providers to ensure the unfettered flow of online content.
The move by the Federal Communications Commission -- cheered on by major broadband companies and strongly opposed by consumer advocates -- is part of a broader effort by Republicans since President Donald Trump took office to undo regulations enacted during the Obama era.
With net neutrality supporters, including Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass,), protesting outside the agency's building, the Republican-controlled FCC voted 2-1 along party lines to start a formal, months-long process of dismantling the rules put in place in 2015
The FCC said the goal was to restore the "light-touch" regulation that had allowed the Internet to flourish.
"The Internet was not broken in 2015. We were not living in a digital dystopia," said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, a Republican who voted against the rules when they were adopted.
"These utility-style regulations ... were and are like the proverbial sledgehammer being wielded against a flea -- yet in this case there was no flea," Pai said.
He argued that there were no abuses by broadband providers that required the FCC to take action to preserve a free and open Internet.
The net neutrality rules, enacted by a party line vote when Democrats controlled the agency, prohibit AT&T Inc., Comcast Corp., Charter Communications Inc., and other Internet service providers from blocking websites, slowing connection speeds and charging extra for faster delivery of certain content.
To enforce the rules, the FCC classified broadband as a more highly regulated utility-like service under Title 2 of federal telecommunications law.
In the weeks before Trump appointed him as the nation's top telecommunications regulator, Pai had promised to "fire up the weed whacker" to remove harmful regulations and declared that the "days were numbered" for the net neutrality rules.