The head of the country’s telecommunications regulator says there will be a vote in May on ditching Obama-era “net neutrality” rules that keep telecoms from favoring some sites and apps. Reaction to his move was mixed.

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai said in a Wednesday speech that he wants to ditch the legal basis for the net neutrality rules that regulated internet service as a utility, like phone service. He also wants to eliminate the FCC’s broad powers to monitor Verizon, AT&T and Comcast for bad behavior.

“Earlier today, I shared with my fellow Commissioners a proposal to reverse the mistake of Title II and return to the light-touch regulatory framework that served our nation so well during the Clinton Administration, the Bush Administration, and the first six years of the Obama Administration,” Pai said in the speech. Title II refers for regulations such as “net neutrality.”

“The document that we will be voting on at the Commission’s May meeting is called a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking. If it is adopted, the FCC will seek public input on this proposal. In other words, this will be the beginning of the discussion, not the end,” he added.

“Now, some have called on the FCC to reverse Title II immediately, through what is known as a Declaratory Ruling. But I don’t believe that is the right path forward. This decision should be made through an open and transparent process in which every American can share his or her views.”

He is seeking input on how to change rules barring broadband providers from blocking and slowing down websites and from charging internet companies for a “fast lane” to customers.

These proposals are expected to set off a long fight in Washington.

Negative, positive reactions

Some reaction was very critical.

“Net neutrality is the First Amendment of the Internet,” said Fight for the Future, a nonpartisan digital rights organization.. “By ignoring what the public wants and attacking Title II open Internet rules, the FCC is playing with fire and potentially opening the floodgates to widespread censorship.

“Paving over the Internet into fast lanes for those who can afford to pay and slow lanes for the rest of us will turn the Web into a place where the wealthiest and most powerful can be heard, while ordinary people and alternative voices are drowned out.”

The internet industry, which considers net neutrality essential for its business, certainly hasn’t stood still as Pai telegraphed his intentions, and it may be keeping some of its most potent tactics in reserve.

Many internet companies have already been running the Washington playbook — lobbying Congress, schmoozing government regulators, and signing letters of protest. Boston tech companies and venture capitalists met with Sen. Ed Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, last Friday to discuss defending net neutrality.

Engine, a policy group for startups, called up small internet companies to keep them updated and got more than 800 signatures for a letter that urges the FCC not to dismantle the net neutrality rules.

Etsy brought sellers to meet with legislators or their staff members in Washington last month, although the company says the visit involved other issues in addition to net neutrality. Roku, the streaming-video gadget maker, hired lobbyists to set up D.C. meetings for the first time.

The industry’s giants, however, have mostly stayed silent beyond offering blanket statements of support for net neutrality. The Internet Association, which speaks for Facebook, Google, Amazon, Microsoft, Netflix and Uber, earlier called on Pai to support net neutrality, and Wednesday issued a statement warning that his changes would “result in a worse internet for consumers.”

Said USTelecom CEO Jonathan Spalter: “Internet service providers, like their customers, support net neutrality. Removing restrictive Title II regulations from broadband providers puts consumers, innovators, engineers and entrepreneurs – not the government – back in the broadband driver’s seat. This is an important step toward leveling the playing field for all innovators, increasing broadband access for all Americans, and stoking the engine of innovation and investment again for all our communities.”

Benefits of change, according to Pai

Pai sees four benefits from making the changes.

“First, it will bring high-speed Internet access to more Americans. Without the overhang of heavy-handed regulation, companies will spend more building next-generation networks. As those networks expand, many more Americans, especially low-income rural and urban Americans, will get high-speed Internet access for the first time.  And more Americans generally will benefit from faster and better broadband.

“Second, it will create jobs. More Americans will go to work building these networks. These are good-paying jobs, laying fiber, digging trenches, and connecting equipment to utility poles.  And established businesses and startup entrepreneurs alike will take advantage of the networks that they build to create even more jobs.

“Third, it will boost competition. Title II was designed for a monopoly. And a regulatory framework designed for a monopoly will tend to move the marketplace towards monopoly.  It should therefore come as no surprise that we have seen greater consolidation during the Title II era.  Heavy-handed regulations are especially tough on new entrants and small businesses that don’t have the armies of lawyers and compliance officers that large, well-established companies do.  So if we want to encourage smaller competitors to enter into the broadband marketplace or expand, we must end Title II.

“Fourth, this proposal is the best path toward protecting Americans’ online privacy. Privacy is a topic that has received a lot of attention lately. I understand that many disagreed with Congress’ decision to stop the FCC’s flawed privacy rules from going into effect later this year.  But wherever you stand, one thing is indisputable: Congress was maintaining the status quo that the FCC put in place when it imposed Title II.  That FCC decision actually stripped the Federal Trade Commission of its authority to regulate broadband providers’ privacy and data security practices.  That’s because the FTC cannot regulate common carriers—which the prior FCC suddenly deemed broadband providers to be.  This decision was a mistake.”

Read the full speech at: