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FCC Votes to Scale Down Net Neutrality Rules



WASHINGTON—The Federal Communications Commission on Thursday approved a plan to begin rolling back Obama-era net neutrality rules, reopening a battle over internet regulation that has raged for much of the last decade.

The agency’s Republican commissioners pushed through the measure, 2-1, overriding opposition from the panel’s lone Democrat. The commission will spend the coming months receiving public comment and preparing new rules.

FCC Chairman

Ajit Pai

said the rewrite would undo the current rules’ overreach, and help spur investment in broadband, which internet providers argue has suffered.

“We will not rely on hyperbolic statements about the end of the internet as we know it, and 140-character argle-bargle, but rather on the data,” Mr. Pai said.

Internet firms, activists and many Democrats say the changes could harm online competition and endanger the open internet, by giving internet providers—typically cable and wireless firms—too much power over the online ecosystem. They also dispute the idea that broadband investment has fallen.

That point was emphasized during the meeting by the commission’s lone Democrat, Mignon Clyburn, who said the proposal “contains a hollow theory of trickle-down internet economics.”

The net neutrality rules were aimed at compelling internet providers to treat all internet traffic the same. But the industry fears the current rules open the door to rate regulation and other restrictions.

Underlying the dispute over what the FCC rules should say is a struggle over which federal law should apply to internet providers—utility-style regulation from the 1930s or ‘light-touch’ regulation that was designed in the 1990s to foster the early internet’s growth. Some experts say neither is a good fit now. The FCC has passed net neutrality regimes under both approaches over the last decade.

Some internet providers have said they would like Congress to write new laws for the internet.

Sen.

John Thune

(R., S.D.), the chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, praised the FCC’s action on net neutrality on Thursday, but urged lawmakers to start working on compromise legislation.

“We should not…view the FCC’s action today as a final outcome,” Mr. Thune said. “While I commend Chairman Ajit Pai and Commissioner

Mike O’Rielly

for taking this necessary step, I fully recognize that today’s action alone does not create ideal certainty for the internet. There is more work yet to do.”

He added that “we need a statute offering clear and enduring rules that balance innovation and investment throughout the entire internet ecosystem.”

Write to John D. McKinnon at john.mckinnon@wsj.com



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