Washington • Federal regulators unveiled a plan Tuesday that would give Internet providers broad powers to determine what websites and online services their customers can see and use, and at what cost.
The move sets the stage for a crucial vote next month at the Federal Communications Commission that could reshape the entire digital ecosystem. The agency's Republican chairman, Ajit Pai, has made undoing the government's net neutrality rules one of his top priorities, and Tuesday's move hands a win to broadband companies such as AT&T, Verizon and Comcast.
Pai is taking aim at regulations that were approved just two years ago under a Democratic presidency and that sought to make sure all Internet content, whether from big or small companies, would be treated equally by Internet providers.
The decision will be put to a vote at the agency's Dec. 14 meeting in Washington. It is expected to pass, with the GOP controlling three of the commission's five seats.
In a release, Pai said his proposal would prevent the government from "micromanaging the Internet." In place of the existing rules, he added, the FCC would "simply require Internet service providers to be transparent about their practices."
The proposal would also shift some enforcement responsibility to the Federal Trade Commission, which can sue companies for violating the commitments or statements they have made to the public. Relying more heavily on Internet providers' own promises on net neutrality reflects a departure from the current rules, which lay out clear federal bans against the selective blocking or slowing of websites, as well as the speeding-up of websites that agree to pay the providers a fee.
Internet providers welcomed the FCC announcement.
"We're very encouraged by Chairman Pai's announcement today that the FCC will move forward next month to restore the successful light-touch regulatory framework for internet services," Verizon said in a statement.
But the FCC proposal is largely opposed by Internet companies such as Google, which said Tuesday that the rules help protect an open Internet.
"The FCC's net neutrality rules are working well for consumers and we're disappointed in the proposal released today," said Google in a statement.
Former Democratic FCC chairman Tom Wheeler, who drafted the 2015 net neutrality rules and rammed them through in spite of Republican opposition, called Tuesday's move "tragic."
"The job of the FCC is to represent the consumer," he said in an interview. "If you like your cable company, you'll love what this does for the Internet, because it gives Internet service providers the same kind of control over content and price as cable operators have today."