FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai Is Leading An Incoherent, Facts-Optional Last Minute War On Net Neutrality…For The American People
from the revolving-door-dysfunction dept
Over the last few months we’ve discussed how FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai has been waging a one man war on net neutrality and Title II using what can only be described as an increasingly aggressive barrage of total nonsense. Back in January Pai tried to claim that Netflix was a horrible neutrality hypocrite because the company uses relatively ordinary content delivery networks. Earlier this month Pai one-upped himself by trying to claim that meaningful neutrality consumer protections would encourage countries like Iran and North Korea to censor the Internet.
Now on the surface, it appears that Pai just doesn’t understand technology very well. Of course, once you understand that he was once a regulatory lawyer for Verizon, you realize he’s simply dressing broadband duopoly profit protection up as some kind of deeper, meaningful ethos. As such, lamenting that Title II is “Obamacare for the Internet,” is just political theater designed to rile up the base to the benefit of the broadband industry.
With net neutrality set for a vote this week, Pai has accelerated his master plan to make the largest number of inaccurate net neutrality statements in the shortest amount of time possible. For example, Pai co-wrote an editorial in the Chicago Tribune last week that tries to use Obamacare fears to insist Americans will lose the right to choose their own wireless plans if Title II based rules come to pass:
“If you like your wireless plan, you should be able to keep it. But new federal regulations may take away your freedom to choose the best broadband plan for you. It’s all part of the federal government’s 332-page plan to regulate the Internet like a public utility…take T-Mobile’s Music Freedom program, which the Internet conduct rule puts on the chopping block. The “Un-carrier” allows consumers to stream as much online music as they want without charging it against their monthly data allowance.”
Except as we’ve noted recently, classifying ISPs as common carriers under Title II absolutely does not involve “regulating ISPs like utilities.” In fact, Wheeler’s stripping away many of the tougher aspects of Title II, something you’ll see immeasurably annoy consumer advocates when the full rules are released later this week. And while I personally think zero rated apps like T-Mobile’s Music Freedom plan set a horrible precedent and should be reined in by the rules, the FCC’s made every indication that they see usage caps and zero rated apps as “creative” pricing models that won’t be touched.
Meanwhile, both Sprint’s and T-Mobile’s COOs have said absolutely nothing should change with their wireless plans under the new rules. Are we noticing a disconnect between Pai’s rhetoric and reality yet?
At the heart of Pai’s assault on net neutrality has been an absolute flood of press releases and public speeches in which Pai insists that he’s aggressively fighting consumer protections because he cares so very much about the little guy. His February 6 press release, for example, throws around his love of the “American People” and “small, independent businesses and entrepreneurs” like so much disingenuous digital confetti. Yet when you actually bother to ask said entrepreneurs — like this letter (pdf) from 100 companies including Yelp, Etsy, Kickstarter, Tumblr and GitHub — they unequivocally make it clear Commissioner Pai doesn’t speak for them:
“We are the ?small, independent businesses and entrepreneurs? that Commissioner Pai referenced in his February 6, 2015 press release about the FCC?s impending net neutrality rulemaking, and we write to say unequivocally that his release does not represent our views on net neutrality. Quite the opposite, entrepreneurs and startups throughout the country have consistently supported Chairman Wheeler?s call for strong net neutrality rules enacted through Title II.”
One marginally clever thing Pai’s been doing is that he’s been raising an absolute hysterical media shitstorm for weeks over the fact the FCC hasn’t released the proposed rules ahead of Thursday’s vote. And it’s impossible to claim he’s wrong: FCC restrictions bar the agency from publicizing drafts ahead of a vote, no matter which party is in power. That’s something that’s been the bane of telecom reporters (and public discourse) for years.
That said, as a former Verizon lawyer, Pai doesn’t really give a damn about transparency. Phone and cable companies absolutely adore the lack of transparency that allows them craft abysmal anti-consumer regulations on the state and federal level every day. Similarly, were Pai’s party in office pushing an agenda he liked (like oh, letting Verizon do effectively whatever it likes, no matter how anti-competitive) you can be fairly sure his love of transparency would be notably absent from the conversation. Still, Pai’s attempting a futile Hail Mary attempt to delay this week’s vote because he just loves transparency so much it hurts.
In short, you’ve got a former Verizon regulatory lawyer claiming to represent the interests of everybody except the companies he’s actually busy looking out for. Layered on to that is a media that pretends it’s not just a little bit absurd that a living, breathing example of revolving door regulation is claiming to be a champion of the American public. Pai knows the rules will be approved on Thursday; he’s just hoping his theatrical performance wins him a chance to lead the FCC (and the likely destruction of these very same rules) should we see a 2016 party shift.
If those ambitions are unattainable, perhaps Pai can rejoin Verizon and contribute to the industry’s legal assault on consumers and the rules more directly — to the great and immeasurable benefit of puppies and school children everywhere.