By a 2-1 vote led by FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, the agency proposed to roll back a 2015 decision to regulate Internet providers like their cousins in the legacy telephone business. The proposal also suggests repealing the so-called "general conduct" rule that allows the FCC to investigate business practices of Internet providers that it suspects may be anticompetitive. And finally, the proposal asks whether the agency should eliminate the most high-profile parts of the net neutrality rules: The rules banning the blocking and slowing of websites, as well as the rule forbidding ISPs from charging websites extra fees.
"Today we propose to repeal utility-style regulation of the Internet," said Pai. "The evidence strongly suggests this is the right way to go."
The FCC's lone Democrat, Mignon Clyburn, said the decision to revisit the rules was merely the latest in a broader effort by Republicans to undercut its own mission.
"The endgame appears to be no-touch regulation," said Clyburn, "and a wholesale destruction of the FCC's public interest authority in the 21st century."
Republican lawmakers have proposed converting the FCC regulation into a bill of some form, but Democrats concerned that the results could be much weaker than the current rules appear unmoved. They are currently gearing up for a grassroots battle similar to the kind that defeated the House Republican health care plan.
"This fight is just starting. Just like in 2014, the public now has the opportunity to stand up, be heard, and influence the outcome," said Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, in a statement. "It will take millions people standing up, just like they did before, to say that the Internet needs to stay free and open."
Internet providers largely hailed the vote, which officially marks a first step toward looser regulations.
"The FCC under Chairman Pai's leadership took an important step today towards returning to the regulatory framework that was so successful for so many years," said Verizon in a statement.