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The FCC is asking whether the agency needs net neutrality on its rulebooks at all

Read the agency’s notice of proposed rulemaking, which kicks off the debate.

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The Federal Communications Commission isn’t just looking to scrap the net neutrality rules implemented under President Barack Obama — it’s weighing whether the agency should mandate new open internet protections at all.

In a speech on Wednesday, the FCC’s Republican chairman, Ajit Pai, blasted the “heavy-handed regulations” that treat the likes of AT&T, Charter, Comcast and Verizon akin to old-fashioned phone companies. Those rules, finished in 2015, aim to ensure internet providers don’t block, slow down or otherwise interfere with web content.

A day later, however, Pai unveiled the official document that begins the process of replacing the Obama-era FCC’s work. Called a notice of proposed rulemaking, it explicitly seeks public comment on a number of issues — including whether the agency even needs any overarching rules that ban ISPs from blocking or throttling web traffic, or creating “fast lanes” that allow companies to pay for speedier delivery of their content.

The FCC’s notice says, for example, that they don’t believe internet providers should block their competitors or interfere with webpages they dislike. But Pai and his team have expressed a great openness in the document in backing off from regulation — or, potentially, even allowing the telecom industry to play a greater role in policing itself.

Speaking on condition of background with reporters on Thursday, senior FCC officials said they’re “seeking comment on whether to keep the rules, to modify the rules or to eliminate any of the rules.” It’s the beginning of the process, not the end, they said, and they stressed “there is not a preordained course of action in terms of how these issues are going to be resolved.”

Even the mere possibility that the FCC could abandon such bright-line net neutrality protections, however, threatens to trigger a public backlash — from Silicon Valley, which supports the existing rules, as well as from consumers, nearly four million of whom wrote the agency last time it tried to regulate on the issue. The FCC will open its doors for public comment beginning next month, following a vote scheduled for May 18.

In the meantime, senior FCC officials said Thursday that Pai intends to enforce the net neutrality rules currently on federal rulebooks. And they said they expect — whatever they decide — that their final rules will draw another legal challenge.


This article originally appeared on Recode.net.