Largely lost to news out of Puerto Rico and Las Vegas, the US Senate on Monday confirmed Ajit Pai for a five-year term on the Federal Communications Commission’s regulatory panel where he gets to preside over the fate of net neutrality. He was approved largely on a party-line vote with Republicans praising the steps he’s already taken to boost rural internet service.
Except that’s not what he’s done.
See, a 2016 report from the FCC itself found that 10% of Americans don’t have access to broadband internet, and that most of those 10% are in rural areas. Pai’s solution did not involve improvements to existing technology or making the current infrastructure more robust, but rather to downgrade the definition of broadband so that slower speeds would be included. His proposal basically says that something could be considered broadband even if it’s less than half the speed of the 25 mpbs definition we’ve been using.
Pai has also been aggressively arguing for years, well before he was in this position, that we should eliminate any net neutrality rules. I’ve written about Pai’s efforts before.
He’s already reversed previous efforts to limit the number of television stations a broadcaster can buy, essentially cutting off potential competition and allowing for effective market monopolies. This would of course limit what information is available to citizens, and provide an easy avenue to streamline propaganda across multiple outlets.
Pai’s efforts have not gone unnoticed. Senator Elizabeth Warren criticized Pai on Monday…
Since his appointment as Chair of the FCC, Chairman Pai has worked at breakneck speed to transform the FCC from an agency that works in the public interest to a big business support group. Chairman Pai started with net neutrality protections–rules that help keep the internet free and open by preventing giant broadband companies from discriminating against certain internet users and turning the internet into another service that caters to those who can pay top dollar. Like his big broadband buddies, Chairman Pai opposes net neutrality. Once President Trump was elected, Chairman Pai declared that the days of net neutrality protections were numbered, and now he is working hard to reverse those rules.
Senator Chuck Schumer additionally noted…
Net neutrality has had a huge impact on everyone who uses the internet–on communities of color, on small businesses, on schools, on civic engagement, and on our economy… In his first 2 weeks on the job, Chairman Pai stopped 9 companies from providing discounted high-speed internet to low-income individuals, and he jammed through nearly a dozen industry-backed actions, including some to begin curtailing net neutrality. The most alarming part: these clandestine moves to clip the public’s fundamental right to a free and open internet were done without seeking public comment first. It is no surprise, therefore, that Chairman Pai would be willing to further undermine the FCC’s protection of net neutrality, notwithstanding the views of the nearly 22 million American citizens who have commented in opposition to his net neutrality proposal.
Given that the Republican Senate, over the objections of other Senators and even their own constituencies, seems perfectly content to let Pai do what he wishes, it would seem that there’s little in the Chairman’s way and net neutrality’s days are indeed numbered.