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Ajit Pai: Trumps New FCC Chairman

This article is the topic of the following episode of the Grounded Reason podcast. Click here for information on accessing the podcast on various mobile devices.

Last week, President Trump appointed Ajit Pai Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission. Currently, there is a terrifying plan in the works to deregulate FCC consumer protection power over ISPs. Meanwhile, Pai will head the commission responsible for protecting consumers from ISPs like Comcast and AT&T.

So just what does Pai’s record on protecting consumers from ISPs look like? Here is a rundown of his past positions

Pai’s Position On Net Neutrality

The basic tenants of Net Neutrality come down to three things.

  • Don’t block lawful content based on its type.
  • Don’t throttle or impede lawful content based on its type.
  • Don’t prioritize lawful content based on its type.

Essentially, it’s fine to charge for bandwidth. However, ISPs are not allowed to add extra charges based on the type of content being delivered. Keep in mind, in the past Net Neutrality was the de facto way the internet operated.

There wasn’t a need to codify the rules until ISPs began abusing their regional monopoly status. This began in 2007 when Comcast began blocking certain file sharing apps. In 2014 video providers Netflix and Vimeo provided evidence of ISPs throttling their video services.

Despite this evidence, Pai voted against codifying net neutrality. As part of a lengthy dissent, he stated it’s “a solution that won’t work to a problem that doesn’t exist.”

Pai, to his credit, claims to support all things he has voted against. For example, when Pai voted against alternatives to cable TV set top boxes, he said the goal should be “eliminating the box.” Many agree with that sentiment. However, regulating the existing cable boxes doesn’t negate eliminating the box all together. Pai’s point here is essentially a straw man argument that has no bearing on the issue at hand.

Another good example of this is his opposition to protecting your privacy from ISPs. Pai’s position was essentially ISPs shouldn’t have stricter rules than services like Facebook. That seems sensible on it’s surface, however Facebook is regulated by the Federal Trade Commission, and for good reason.

The internet is a means of communication. Therefore, the FCC regulates it. Facebook delivers a service as a business on that communications infrastructure. Hence, the FTC regulates it. Pai’s reasoning is akin to saying that highways should not have stricter regulations than drive through windows.

This is most likely the reason Trump selected Pai. He’s clever. He opposes rules to benefit consumers based on any technicality he can find. This allows him to openly support the rule while still voting down consumer protections. He likely learned this trick when he was a lawyer for Verizon. Yes, that’s right. The person in charge of protecting you from companies like Verizon, was a former litigator for Verizon.

Pai’s tactics trick many into thinking he’s on the consumer side when his record clearly shows that he isn’t. For instance, take Larry Downes recent piece asking; “Why is the Media saying Pai is against Net Neutrality”

Well Larry, it is because Pai has repeatedly voted his opposition to Net Neutrality while saying he agreed with the spirit of it. Pai’s stance is essentially Net Neutrality is great as long as we don’t enforce it. Downes has fallen prey to Pai’s words without watching his actions.

Whether purposely done or not, only Downes knows. Although it’s interesting when listing Pai’s background in the article, Downes neglected to mention that Pai was a former Verizon Lawyer. It’s also interesting that he completely conflates 2015’s FCC net neutrality rules and  2004’s FCC Internet Freedom principles. That’s an article for another day.

Net Neutrality is a nuanced, technical topic. That will make it very easy for skilled bureaucrats like Pai to mislead the public. I will leave you with this easy litmus test, however. Check how close their ties are to a large Internet Service Provider. It’s typically a good gauge on which side of the Net Neutrality argument they fall on.

Other Topics Covered This Episode

John Thunes Net Neutrality Compromise Attempt

U.S. Rank in Internet is Pretty Terrible

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