The Trump administration served notice on Thursday that its next move to deregulate broadband internet service companies would be to jettison the Obama administration’s net neutrality rules, which were intended to safeguard free expression online.
The net neutrality rules, approved by the Federal Communications Commission in 2015, aimed to preserve the open internet and ensure that it could not be divided into pay-to-play fast lanes for web and media companies that can afford it and slow lanes for everyone else.
Supporters of net neutrality have insisted the rules are necessary to protect equal access to content on the internet. Opponents said the rules unfairly subjected broadband internet suppliers like Verizon, AT&T, Comcast and Charter to utility-style regulation.
In a news conference, Sean Spicer, the White House spokesman, mentioned the net neutrality rules affecting telecommunications and cable internet services, noting that the Obama administration had “reclassified them as common carriers.”
Mr. Spicer said President Trump had “pledged to reverse this overreach.” The Obama-era rules, Mr. Spicer said, were an example of “bureaucrats in Washington” placing restrictions on one kind of company — internet service suppliers — and “picking winners and losers.”
Telecommunications and cable television companies fought being classified as common-carrier utility services, which are subject to anti-blocking and anti-discrimination rules. They said the classification opened the door to government interference that would ultimately reduce incentives to invest and would therefore result in higher prices and hurt consumers.
Mr. Spicer made his comments after Congress voted this week to complete its overturning of Obama-era internet privacy protections and to allow broadband companies to track and sell their customers’ online information with greater ease. The vote was seen as a prelude to further deregulation for broadband companies.
Mr. Spicer remarked on the rollback of privacy rules before he spoke more broadly about regulations on broadband internet services. President Trump, he said, will “continue to fight Washington red tape that stifles American innovation, job creation and economic growth.”
Mr. Trump earlier this year appointed Ajit Pai, a former lawyer for Verizon and a minority Republican member of the Federal Communications Commission, as chairman of the agency. Mr. Pai voted against the net neutrality rules as a commission member in 2015.
Since becoming chairman, Mr. Pai has indicated that he plans to either roll back or decline to enforce many consumer protection regulations created during the Obama administration, including those regarding net neutrality.
Getting rid of the net neutrality rules, policy experts said, will be more difficult than peeling away the privacy regulations. Congress, in a vote mainly along party lines, and by a narrow margin, overturned the privacy rules enacted last fall, using a streamlined process under the Congressional Review Act.
But that faster procedure will not apply to the net neutrality rules, which were approved by the F.C.C. two years ago, beyond the timetable for such reviews.
Another path to repeal would be for Mr. Pai, who now leads a Republican-majority commission, to revisit the issue at the F.C.C.
Politically, net neutrality might be a bigger challenge as well. When it was weighing the rules in 2014 and 2015, the F.C.C. received more than one million public comments. The vast majority of them endorsed strict nondiscrimination rules that supporters viewed as necessary to preserve the democratic ethos of an open internet.
That wave of response influenced the Democratic-majority commission. “Net neutrality could be a volatile and explosive issue,” said Gene Kimmelman, president of Public Knowledge, a nonprofit consumer group. “I’m not sure the Trump administration appreciates that it addresses nondiscrimination for all kinds of speech, as much for Breitbart and Newsmax as it is for MSNBC and CNN,” referring to news sources that are staunch backers of the Trump administration and ones often seen by Republicans as harsh critics.
Opponents of the net neutrality rules say the rules were mainly the result of a very effective lobbying campaign by powerful internet companies like Google, Facebook, Amazon and Netflix. They have deep pockets and could pay more for fast lanes for their services, they say, but used the net neutrality campaign to avoid that expense.
“Regulations result in the allocation of wealth by the government,” said Jeffrey Eisenach, an economist and visiting scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, who was also an adviser to the Trump transition team. “They are often an opportunity for one group of firms to grab an advantage over another group.”