Ajit Pai Attacked Hollywood & Silicon Valley Because Even Republicans Are Against His Net Neutrality Plan
from the that's-a-temper-tantrum,-not-leadership dept
We were mystified last week when FCC chair Ajit Pai decided to attack both Hollywood and Silicon Valley because some (not all) people in both communities have spoken out against his plans to gut net neutrality. The attacks were weird on multiple levels. Regarding Hollywood, the comments were strangely personal — picking out a list of entertainers, often taking their comments out of context, and attacking them in very personal ways. It was, to say the least, unbecoming of an FCC chair to directly pick on entertainers for voicing their opinions. The attacks on Silicon Valley were… even stranger. First, he claimed that the demand to keep net neutrality was really a ploy by the largest internet companies (i.e. Google & Facebook) to keep their dominant position. But that ignores the fact that without net neutrality, they’re well positioned to further entrench their position. More importantly, it totally ignores the fact that neither Google nor Facebook have been strong advocates of net neutrality (and, in many cases, have pushed back against net neutrality).
Bloomberg now has an article up explaining why Pai would make these attacks: apparently even among Republican activists, there’s effectively no support for his plan to kill net neutrality. So, rather than (1) admit he’s made a huge mistake or (2) give good reasons for his plan, he thought he’d pull a sort of Trumpian game of blaming other people that Republicans are supposed to hate, in the (not very accurate) stereotypical view of the US from the reality distortion field known as Washington DC.
For some reason, restoring the lost power of huge telecom companies hasn?t lit a fire in grassroots circles on the right, a point that Pai?s political allies have been acknowledging privately for months. So the FCC chair came back from Thanksgiving looking to create a spark. In a speech on Tuesday, Pai angrily denounced celebrities and tech companies who have been criticizing his plans to undo the 2015 rules. Hollywood is always a good scapegoat, of course, and Republicans looking to stir up anger in 2017 do well to frame their issues as a response to the unchecked power of Silicon Valley.
This isn?t a new tactic for Pai. ?He had the same complaints about us being shills? for internet companies, said Tom Wheeler, the FCC chairman who ushered in the 2015 rules. Anger towards tech on the right has only grown since then. Brent Skorup, a research fellow at the Mercatus Center, a research organization at George Mason University with a free market bent, regularly talks to Republican Congressional offices about tech policy. ?They see a lot of these issues through the lens of payback for tech companies,? he said. (Skorup supports Pai?s approach.)
This is not how good policy is made. This is not leadership. This is the Chairman of the FCC throwing a childish temper tantrum and blaming industries, just because he thinks it might provide him additional cover for his bad, poorly thought-out plan. “But, Mommy, those other kids were mean to me, why are you blaming me?!?!??!”
Once again, it’s worth remembering that outside the bubble of Washington DC, net neutrality is widely supported across party lines. Multiple studies back before the 2015 rules were put in place found that Republicans/conservatives supported net neutrality by an overwhelming amount (over 80%). A more recent study from last year found the same thing.
At this point, it’s undeniable that the vast, vast, vast majority of Americans who understand the issue favor having net neutrality rules in place. It is a small, but vocal, contingent of folks (often with ties to the telco/cable duopoloy) who magically feel differently about it. A good FCC chair would actually convince people why he’s right and why they’re wrong. But that’s not what’s happening. Pai is just lashing out, and because he thinks his side hates Hollywood and tech, he’s decided to try to somehow, nonsensically, strap his own argument to the anti-Hollywood, anti-Silicon Valley message he thinks will help get people excited.
It’s a bad strategy for someone with a bad policy.