By David Shepardson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Federal Communications Commission is expected on Thursday to rescind net neutrality rules championed by Democratic former President Barack Obama that barred the blocking or slowing of internet traffic.
The 2015 rules barred broadband providers from blocking or slowing access to content or charging consumers more for certain content. They were intended to ensure a free and open internet, give consumers equal access to web content and prevent broadband service providers from favoring their own content. Chairman Ajit Pai proposes allowing those practices as long as they are disclosed.
Internet service providers clashed with Democrats and celebrities like "Star Wars" actor Mark Hamill ahead of a vote this week as the battle over net neutrality stretched from Hollywood to Washington.
Protesters including some members of Congress are expected to rally outside the FCC in Washington before the vote.
Pai's proposal marks a victory for big internet service providers such as AT&T Inc, Comcast Corp and Verizon Communications Inc that opposed the rules and gives them sweeping powers to decide what web content consumers can get. It is a setback for Google parent Alphabet Inc and Facebook Inc, which had urged Pai not to rescind the rules.
Michael Powell, a former FCC chairman who heads a trade group representing major cable companies and broadcasters, told reporters that internet providers would not block content because it would not make economic sense and consumers would not stand for it.
"They make a lot of money on an open internet," Powell said, adding it is "much more profitable" than a closed system. "This is not a pledge of good-heartedness, it's a pledge in the shareholders' interest."
A University of Maryland poll released this week found that more than 80 percent of respondents opposed the proposal. The survey of 1,077 registered voters was conducted online by the Program for Public Consultation at the University of Maryland from Dec. 6-8.
Democrats have said the absence of rules would be unacceptable and that they would work to overturn the proposal if it is approved. Advocates of the net neutrality rules also plan a legal challenge.
Pai's proposal is "like letting the bullies develop their own playground rules," said Senator Ed Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat.
Many Republicans back Pai's proposal but want Congress to write net neutrality rules. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the FCC would "return the internet to a consumer-driven marketplace free of innovation-stifling regulations."
A group of nearly 20 state attorneys general asked the FCC to delay the vote until the issue of fake comments is addressed.
(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Chris Sanders and Lisa Shumaker)