Today, the Federal Communications Commission voted to approve a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to roll back the agency's 2015 Open Internet Order, which created strong net neutrality rules that force broadband providers to treat all internet content and services equally.
The vote launches at least a three-month comment period - some Democratic legislators have called for longer - before the FCC could act on the proposal, which could light a fire under a Hill effort to pass bipartisan legislation.
Pai at the hearing Thursday reiterated recent arguments for the repeal of the net neutrality rules. Wheeler's FCC chose to treat broadband service as a utility under Title II of the federal Communications Act, which gave the commission stronger oversight.
Kevin Howley, professor of communication at DePauw University, tells CBS that if net neutrality rules fall by the wayside, "consumers would be left in the untenable position of accessing the internet in much the same way they make use of cable television, through a tiered system of subscription services".
Pai reiterated a comment he made last month - that among the nation's 12 largest Internet service providers, domestic broadband capital expenditures decreased by 5.6% or $3.6 billion between 2014 and 2016.
Pai declined on Thursday to commit to retaining any rules, but said he favors an "open internet".
The vote enables the FCC to begin taking public feedback on its proposal, which could be revised and put to a final vote later this year.
Many Americans and technology firms filed objections to the FCC's proposal prior to the vote.
"We were not living in a digital dystopia", says Pai. Under the proposal, the agency would eliminate the legal underpinnings of the rules, which prohibit Internet service providers like Comcast (cmcsa) and Verizon (vz) from blocking, slowing or otherwise discriminating against web sites like Google's (googl) YoutTube and online services like Netflix (nflx).
Gigi Sohn, a counselor to former FCC chairman Tom Wheeler, says the public comments could also factor into any court battle that may come later over the rule change. Net neutrality helps to ensure that the Internet is a place for innovation and opportunity for all, rather than just the wealthy few.
As part of its Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, the FCC said in a statement that the regulator proposes to return to the bipartisan framework that preserved a flourishing free and open internet for almost two decades.
The FCC will collect comments from stakeholders and the public over the next 90 days before drafting a new order and voting to make it law.
"Today, we propose to repeal utility-style regulation of the internet". "Revocation of the current rules and replacement with less stringent protections, Clyburn said Thursday, would deeply damage the ability of the FCC to be a champion of consumers and competition in the 21st century".