FCC Commissioner Pai Says Net Neutrality's 'Days Are Numbered' Under Trump
from the celebrating-devolution dept
As we’ve been discussing, there’s absolutely every indication that the incoming Trump administration intends to not only gut net neutrality, but defang and defund the FCC entirely. All three of Trump’s telecom advisors have made it abundantly clear they see no role for the FCC as a broadband consumer watchdog. None of them have been able to admit the broadband space suffers from a lack of broadband competition; in fact, one of his top advisors is a Sprint lobbyist who doesn’t think telecom monopolies are real.
One of the top candidates for the new top FCC spot, current Commissioner Ajit Pai, last week made it abundantly clear that net neutrality won’t be around for much longer in a speech before the Free State Foundation in Washington, DC:
“I?m optimistic that last month?s election will prove to be an inflection point?and that during the Trump Administration, we will shift from playing defense at the FCC to going on offense,” Pai said in a speech yesterday before the Free State Foundation in Washington, DC, said. The commission “need[s] to remove outdated and unnecessary regulations… We need to fire up the weed whacker and remove those rules that are holding back investment, innovation, and job creation,” he also said.
That weed whacker won’t just be chipping away at net neutrality; it will also be eliminating the FCC’s new consumer broadband privacy rules, and potentially many of the agency’s attempts to highlight and shore up the overall lack of competition in the market. According to Pai, net neutrality’s days are numbered, and the incoming Trump FCC will be guided by, among other things, a “good dose of humility”:
“On the day that the Title II [net neutrality] Order was adopted, I said that ‘I don?t know whether this plan will be vacated by a court, reversed by Congress, or overturned by a future Commission. But I do believe that its days are numbered,'” Pai said. “Today, I am more confident than ever that this prediction will come true. And I?m hopeful that beginning next year, our general regulatory approach will be a more sober one that is guided by evidence, sound economic analysis, and a good dose of humility.”
If you’re new to this debate, Pai has been waging a facts optional assault on net neutrality for years. At one point, the Commissioner insisted that the US net neutrality rules actively encouraged dictators in Iran and North Korea (it, uh, doesn’t). Pai also tried to claim that net neutrality violations by ISPs simply aren’t real, while attempting to claim that Netflix was the one violating net neutrality by running a content delivery network (it isn’t). In fact, when one looks at Pai’s history on net neutrality, “evidence, sound economic analysis, and a good dose of humility” are often nowhere to be found.
Pai, a former Verizon regulatory lawyer, is obviously thrilled that the agency will soon stop trying to protect consumers and innovators and get back to what he (and many of the incoming advisors) believes the FCC’s core mission truly is: protecting Comcast, AT&T and Verizon revenues from harm. The problem, as we’ve noted a few times, is that net neutrality has broad, bipartisan support, so activist backlash to overturning the rules is likely to be swift and fierce. Still, folks like Pai and companies like AT&T are supremely confident they’ll be able to somehow put this whole pesky net neutrality thing to bed in the new year:
AT&T CEO says he believes Net neutrality will go away as an issue under a Republican FCC. $T
— Roger Cheng (@RogerWCheng) December 6, 2016
That’s a fundamental misunderstanding of what net neutrality is. Net neutrality is never going to just “go away as an issue.” It’s a fight that will be waged indefinitely as long as ISPs continue to explore new and creative ways of abusing their monopoly over the last mile. And with an incoming FCC that will try to pretend the market is intensely competitive, and telcos that are ceding control of the market to cable, this is actually only getting worse across large swaths of the country.
The goal for Pai and friends will be to dismantle net neutrality and the FCC without making it look like that’s what they’re doing. That will likely come in the form of a Communications Act rewrite, or some other ISP-supported act of Congress (like the flimsy and loophole-filled Thune/Upton proposal from last year) that pays ample, empty lip service to the concept but actually aims to codify breaking net neutrality into law. In other words, phony populism that actually runs in stark contrast to the best interests of the public and internet at large.
All of that said, whoever gets the FCC’s top spot will need more than comedic absurdism and blanket denials if they want to do battle with the millions of Americans that actually like having a relatively open and healthy internet.