FCC chairman moves to dismantle Obama net neutrality rules

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai announced plans Tuesday to eliminate hard-fought Obama-era net neutrality rules, calling for a “light-touch regulatory approach” to the Internet.

The conservative Pai said his proposal to scrap the rules will be voted on by FCC commissioners on Dec. 14. He said the proposal was circulated to commissioners Tuesday morning.

“Working with my colleagues, I look forward to returning to the light-touch, market-based framework that unleashed the digital revolution and benefited consumers here and around the world,” Pai said.

The net neutrality regulations imposed utility-style regulation on Internet service providers such as Comcast, AT&T and Verizon to prevent them from favoring their own digital services over their rivals – for instance, by blocking or slowing certain content.

But Pai says the net neutrality rules adopted during the Obama administration discourage the Internet service providers from making investments in their network to provide better and faster online access.

Ajit Pai, Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, testifies before a Senate Appropriations Financial Services and General Government Subcommittee on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., June 20, 2017. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein - RC1E2880C590

Ajit Pai, Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, testifies before a Senate Appropriations Financial Services and General Government Subcommittee on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., June 20, 2017.  (REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein)

Pai, a longtime opponent of the regulations, has signaled plans to undo the rules since taking over as chairman of the FCC this year.

His attack on net neutrality has triggered protests from consumer groups and Internet companies, as well as Democratic lawmakers. 

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On Tuesday, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi called Pai’s proposal an “all-out assault on the entrepreneurship, innovation and competition at the heart of the internet.”

“The FCC’s moves to dismantle net neutrality will further stack the playing field in favor of the biggest bank account, chilling competition, hurting consumers and punishing entrepreneurs and small businesses,” Pelosi said. 

But in his statement, Pai argued that the Internet “thrived” under light regulation, leading the private sector to invest more than $1 trillion to build communications networks through the United States.

“But in 2015, the prior FCC bowed to pressure from President Obama,” Pai said. “On a party-line vote, it imposed heavy-handed, utility-style regulations upon the Internet.  That decision was a mistake. It’s depressed investment in building and expanding broadband networks and deterred innovation.” 

Pai told Fox Business Network's "Kennedy" in an interview that will air Tuesday night that he believes the move will encourage more companies, including smaller companies, to make investments.

“Those are the companies that don’t have the wherewithal to hire a bunch of lawyers and accounts to comply with these regulations,” he said. “They were the ones who told us, ‘look, it’s hard enough as it is raise capital and to invest in these areas, especially rural and low-income areas.’ These regulations don’t make that easier.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Alex Pappas is a politics reporter at FoxNews.com. Follow him on Twitter at @AlexPappas.