By David Shepardson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The head of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission is expected to unveil his strategy this week to overturn landmark 2015 net neutrality rules, a move that will kickoff a new battle over the future of the internet.
Ajit Pai, who was named chair of the FCC by President Donald Trump in January, will deliver a speech titled "The Future of Internet Regulation" on Wednesday in Washington, the FCC said.
Sources said Pai is expected to announce that he will begin the process of taking public comment to repeal the rules approved by the FCC under President Barack Obama in early 2015. The FCC could hold an initial vote on his proposal at the FCC's May 18 meeting, the sources said.
Pai's office declined to comment.
The rules approved by the FCC in 2015 prohibit broadband providers from giving or selling access to speedy internet, essentially a "fast lane," to certain internet services over others. The 2015 FCC rules reclassified internet service providers much like utilities. A federal appeals court upheld the rules last year.
Internet providers like AT&T Inc (T.N), Verizon Communications Inc (VZ.N) and Comcast Corp (CMCSA.O) have argued net neutrality rules make it harder to manage internet traffic and investment in additional capacity less likely.
Advocacy group Free Press Chief Executive Craig Aaron said Monday Pai wants to hand over control of the internet to providers "no matter the cost to our economy and democracy."
Pai, who opposed the net neutrality reclassification in 2015, has repeatedly said he backs a "free and open internet" but under a different regulatory scheme.
Some analysts have said FCC action to roll back net neutrality rules could put pressure Congress to adopt legislation that clarifies the extent of FCC authority to regulate internet service.
FCC Commissioner Mike O'Rielly said on Thursday that Congress should adopt legislation to resolve the issue and determine "whether there should be rules."
Websites worry that without the rules they might lose access to customers. Democrats and privacy advocates have said net neutrality is crucial to keeping the internet open.
Reuters and other news outlets reported in early April that Pai was moving quickly to replace neutrality rules.
Pai told reporters Thursday he has been meeting with major internet companies and trade groups to discuss ways of protecting an open internet.
"There's common ground here and there's room for an agreement here," Pai said. "Going forward we want to make sure that we have a light touch regulatory framework."
It is not clear what alternative legal framework Pai may endorse to guarantee an open internet.
The Internet Association, a group representing Facebook Inc (FB.O), Amazon.com Inc (AMZN.O), Alphabet Inc (GOOGL.O) and others, met with Pai this month and said "the internet industry is uniform in its belief that net neutrality preserves the consumer experience, competition, and innovation online," according to a letter filed with the FCC.
(Reporting by David Shepardson; editing by Diane Craft)