The chairman of the Federal Communications Commission wants to let Comcast, Verizon and other broadband companies turn the internet into a latter-day version of cable TV, in which they decide what customers can watch and how much they pay for that content.

That’s essentially what would happen under the proposal by the chairman, Ajit Pai, to abandon the commission’s network neutrality rules, which prevent telecom companies from interfering with how their customers use the internet.

Net neutrality prevents those companies from having companies like Amazon pay a fee to get their content delivered more quickly than their rivals’, and from having the firms throttle other services and websites, even blocking customer access to, say, Netflix or an online newspaper.

Under Mr. Pai’s proposal, telecom companies would effectively be allowed to sell you a basic internet plan that might include only limited access to Google and email. For Facebook and Twitter you might need a slightly more expensive deluxe plan. The premium plan might include access to Netflix and Amazon. Oh, and by the way, media businesses eager to gain more users could pay broadband companies to be included in their enhanced basic or deluxe plans.

That might sound like a far-fetched scenario. But there is reason to fear that some version of that awful vision could become a reality, because most Americans have just one or two choices for broadband access at home. People have access to four national wireless companies, but those connections tend to be slower and less useful for data-intensive applications than wired service provided by cable and telephone companies.

Instead of making sure that broadband companies can’t take advantage of their gatekeeping power over the internet, Mr. Pai wants to let them do whatever they want. All they would be required to do is be “transparent” about what they are doing. In other words, they could simply tell customers what to expect in endless contracts filled with legalese and printed in tiny type. Mr. Pai further argues that the Federal Trade Commission would then make sure that companies were living up to their promises, essentially abdicating any responsibility the Federal Communications Commission has for the most important communications system in the country.

Broadband companies are delighted by Mr. Pai’s proposal, which the three-vote Republican majority on the commission is expected to adopt at its meeting on Dec. 14. And they are quick to say that customers have nothing to fear.

For example, Comcast says it will not block or slow down any “lawful content” on its network. Well, that’s a relief. But the future of the internet is not something that the F.C.C. should be leaving in the hands of a few large telecom companies that have every incentive to devise new ways to extract more money from consumers and from companies that operate on the internet. Comcast has already indicated that it would be willing to charge content companies fees for faster delivery of their data. The broadband industry further argues that Congress should enact bipartisan net neutrality legislation, but this a ruse and unlikely to produce the strong rules needed to protect the internet.

Mr. Pai says net neutrality rules put in place by the F.C.C. in 2015 have discouraged broadband companies from investing in the business. But he bases that on cherry-picked statistics. In fact, a comprehensive analysis of publicly traded internet service providers by Free Press, a public interest group, found that investment was up about 5 percent since those rules were enacted.

Ultimately, Mr. Pai and his colleagues will have to defend this proposal in federal court, where, experts say, judges will be very skeptical of his rationale for getting rid of net neutrality rules and putting nothing in their place. It is clear that he has already lost the argument in the court of public opinion. Americans have made clear that they much prefer the internet to cable TV; in the third quarter of this year, about a million people got rid of their cable and satellite TV service.