FCC's Pai Puts Final Bullet In Net Neutrality Ahead Of Potential Demotion

from the one-more-time-around dept

While the courts partially upheld the FCC’s hugely unpopular net neutrality repeal just about a year ago, it also kicked some aspects of the repeal back to the FCC. Most notably, the courts stated the Ajit Pai FCC couldn’t ban states from protecting consumers if the FCC is no longer interested in doing so. The courts also noted that the FCC (surprise!) did little to no research into how the repeal would impact public safety or efforts to bridge the digital divide (the latter being kind of important in a massive pandemic).

Knowing that Pai could face demotion under a possible Biden administration, the agency is now rushing forward to try and address these concerns and put the finishing touches on the least popular tech policy decision in modern history, short of SOPA/PIPA.

As is his way, Pai published a coy and folksy editorial over at Medium, trotting out several well-tread falsehoods one last time, including the claim that ending net neutrality drove more network investment (this is absolutely false), that net neutrality was just a silly pet project of Silicon Valley elites and Hollywood (the rules had overwhelming, bipartisan public support as well as the support of every U.S. consumer group), and the GOP, telco, and telecom policy tourist favorite — that the rules must not have mattered because the internet didn’t immediately end in a massive rainbow-colored explosion:

“In 2017, numerous Washington politicians, far-left special-interest groups, Hollywood stars, and Silicon Valley tech giants, as well as many in the media, tried to scare the American people about what would happen once the FCC adopted the Restoring Internet Freedom Order. In that order, we overturned the previous Administration?s decision to heavily regulate the Internet like a slow-moving utility under rules developed in the 1930s and restored the longstanding, bipartisan, market-based approach. The American people were told that they would get the Internet one word at a time. They were told that they would have to pay $5 per tweet. They were told that it would be the end of the Internet as we know it. It was frightening stuff to be sure, but it was utter nonsense.

While it’s true the repeal saw no shortage of hyperbole on both sides of the fight, this is the same drivel Pai has been spouting since the repeal began nearly four years ago. The FCC’s repeal didn’t just kill net neutrality rules, it hamstrung the FCC’s ability to stand up and police giant telecom monopolies. As a result, AT&T now uses broadband usage caps and overage fees to unfairly penalize users who don’t use AT&T’s streaming services. Verizon now charges you more money if you’d prefer your video connections not be throttled. Companies charge all manner of bogus, non-transparent fees, including rental fees for hardware consumers already own. This FCC couldn’t give any less of a shit about any of it.

To understand the net neutrality repeal properly, you have to view it in context of the FCC’s other behaviors. Not only did the Pai FCC kill net neutrality, it killed the FCC’s ability to adequately regulate the sector it’s in charge of. It also rubber stamped competition and job-killing megadeals before it had even seen any objective data. The GOP killed FCC privacy rules before they could take effect. 42 million Americans lack access to broadband. 83 million more live under broadband monopolies, usually Comcast. The U.S. broadband sector is a broken, uncompetitive mess. Kissing monopoly ass fixes none of this.

Perhaps in fantasyland letting AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast do whatever they want results in Utopian outcomes, but in reality it results in the same competition problems, high prices, atrocious customer service, and spotty broadband coverage Americans have enjoyed for the better part of 30 years. However, Pai clearly still believes he bravely stood up to the evil Google/Netflix empire and the “Hollywood elite” to free the internet from “antiquated regulation.”

In reality, he effectively gutted a U.S. regulators’ ability to police predatory telecom monopolies with thirty-year track records of clear, anti-competitive, anti-consumer behaviors. Tomato, tomaahto. In Pai’s world, he was the victim. And, much like the rest of Trumpland, no matter how much evidence to the contrary is presented, Pai insists his giant middle finger in the face of U.S. consumers and objective data resulted in untold, miraculous outcomes:

“And what?s been the result? The Internet has remained free and open. And it?s stronger than ever. Millions more Americans have access to the Internet today than in 2017. In 2018 and then again in 2019, the United States set records for annual fiber deployment, and we?ve seen network investment hit levels that our nation hadn?t seen for over a decade. In fact, since we adopted the Restoring Internet Freedom Order, average download speeds for fixed broadband in the United States have doubled, increasing by over 99% (so much for getting the Internet one word at a time). And in 2018 and 2019, we added over 72,000 wireless cell sites in the United States, after adding fewer than 20,000 in the prior four years.”

Except again, claims of exploding network investment are false (in fact, both AT&T and Comcast trimmed investment this year). The rest of Pai’s data points had nothing to do with repealing net neutrality. Much of the fiber growth Pai continues to take credit for were thanks to fiber deployment conditions affixed by the previous FCC to AT&T’s acquisition of DirecTV. And to community broadband efforts the Pai FCC have attempted to ban. And one of the biggest reasons the internet didn’t explode upon repeal is states stepped up and passed their own version of the rules. That has kept ISPs from behaving even worse, though again Pai’s FCC, at AT&T’s and Comcast’s behest, has tried to ban states from protecting consumers. So important is it to Trumpland and the telecom sector that nobody have the authority to hold it accountable on the federal, state, or local level, the DOJ is even trying to help.

It’s telling that Pai has spent four years listening to a laundry list of experts inform him as to why his approach was the wrong one, and not a single falsehood in his repertoire has changed. Pai’s still out here claiming regulatory capture somehow results in amazing outcomes the lion’s share of broadband-using Americans can clearly see aren’t true. This kind of ideology first, facts later partisan hubris has set U.S. broadband policy back years at the worst possible time. Shortly after Pai got done whispering sweet nothings into the ears of telecom monopolies, a massive pandemic struck, only highlighting U.S. broadband shortcomings further.

No matter how many times telecom-loyal politicians, regulators, consultants, think tankers, and policy yes men claim otherwise, kissing Comcast’s and AT&T’s ass isn’t serious adult policy. It’s regulatory capture and corruption. And if you can’t see the negative impact this has on competition, consumers, tech innovation, and communications markets after 30 years of U.S. broadband monopolization, consolidation, and dysfunction, you’re part of the problem.

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Comments on “FCC's Pai Puts Final Bullet In Net Neutrality Ahead Of Potential Demotion”

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This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

He’s a Trump appointee, who throughout his term so far has shown no willingness to do anything but lie and defraud in the manner in which Trump originally requested he do. Why would he listen to experts? It’s not like he’ll face consequences so long as Trump is in office, and he’s pretty much guaranteed a nice windfall when he steps down from the FCC.

Just another reason to hope the election goes a certain way, and perhaps get some enjoyment out of how he tries spinning things after January.

Thad (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

He’s a Trump appointee, who throughout his term so far has shown no willingness to do anything but lie and defraud in the manner in which Trump originally requested he do.

I’m not sure Trump could even pick Pai’s face out of a crowd, and I’m pretty confident he doesn’t know what net neutrality is. In this instance and in most of his appointments, Trump was just a rubber stamp for McConnell.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Biden's choice

I wouldn’t hold your breath for major change. While that party are generally less openly corrupt than the Republicans, they have been shown to be swayed in this area by lobbyists who don’t necessarily help them to understand the realities of this sort of thing.

I would guess that what you’ll see is an appointee less openly committing fraud, but not necessarily one that will claw back the decade or more of anti-consumer action that’s happened.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Biden's choice

"Tho its very likely Net Neutrality will be put back in place."

It’s very likely a number of the less bribed democrats will want net neutrality back in place, yes.

But if Biden wins it’ll be a case of a home owner coming back to find the unruly child has smashed all the china, torn the cupboards from the walls, chopped up the dining table, cracked the WC cistern, flooded the larder and set the study on fire.

Net neutrality, in that analogy, is whether or not the house has internet which is a good thing to check for but not exactly priority One when the flames are rising along the walls.

To expand the analogy Biden’s presumptive administration might just have the time to pick a double armload of the most important stuff and try to drag it out before it joins the rest of the collapsing wreckage. Net neutrality, along with meaningful police reform, immigration reform, and burying amendments to section 230 will have to take a back burner in favor of, for instance, rebuilding the CDC and stopping people from dying like flies from Corona.

Even that scenario presumes the democrats are finally able to stomp on their usual knee-jerk reaction of putting pork barrels up for grabs – because if they don’t, and continue with the exact same politics which paved Trump’s way to the oval office, then Biden’s term will be short, and he will be replaced with the GOP’s next candidate – who might make Trump look like an inept petulant child in the business of malice.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Biden's choice

"What can we soon expect from the FCC with a Democrat back in charge?"

Not much. Biden being better than Trump is like stating that a shady crook known to carry water for whatever industry lobby paid fr his campaign is still a less harmful choice than the entitled man-child throwing tantrums while toting the nuclear football around.

Absolutely best case scenario? Biden and the democrats toss their usual mutual backscratching-sessions and pandering overboard to slap patches on the worst harm done by the Trump administration and manages to keep the US out of a second civil war and the economy from collapsing completely. Any damage to just persistently cause severe harm to the US in the long term will ave second priority so nothing will be done.

By the time the US gets around to fix their broken internet legislation the US will be at the bottom of the pack for anything internet-related.

But that’s best case scenario. It’s far more likely the Biden administration will ineffectively flounder around trying to undo a few of the most obvious holes in the ship of state while individual senators and congressmen try to sneak in as much mickey mouse legislation as possible under the radar. When the damages Trump has done starts having effect people rapidly lose faith in the Great White Hope of the democrats as well and Biden just becomes a last-ditch stopgap Hindenburg before the GOP produces a somewht more competent populist strongman than Trump for the 2024 election.

aerinai (profile) says:

It isn't about your tenure, its about after...

No matter how many times telecom-loyal politicians, regulators, consultants, think tankers, and policy yes men claim otherwise, kissing Comcast's and AT&T's ass isn't serious adult policy

It may not be serious adult policy, but a cushy chairmanship with a seven-figure salary when your term is up because you played the good little lap dog is a serious incentive…

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: It isn't about your tenure, its about after...

Indeed. From an ethical perspective his actions are absolutely abhorrent, shameless and open corruption from the start, but from a personal gain perspective it makes all too much sense as through his actions he not only got paid by the very public he’s been screwing over but he’s ensured that once he leaves he’ll almost certainly get a very luxurious and profitable ‘job’ with one of the companies he’s been serving.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Well at least he's a consistent asshole, now about that honesty

He started his tenure running the FCC on a platform of nothing but lies and looks like should sanity prevail he’ll be ending it on the the same, showing that even he knows he’s more full of shit than a never-cleaned stockyard as if he had good arguments in his favor he wouldn’t keep falling back on lies.

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Rishhko (user link) says:

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