Pai Takes On Net Neutrality ‘Hysteria, Hot Air’

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai on Tuesday defended his Net Neutrality proposal at an event organized by the conservative think tank, R Street Institute, and technologists community, Lincoln Network. The “Restoring Internet Freedom” order would undo the 2015 change that re-classified the internet as a utility so ISPs must treat all internet traffic the same, with no fast or slow speed lanes.

The upshot of that change, Pai said, has meant more regulatory burdens for smaller ISPs that cancel, curtail or delay fiber network upgrades. Nearly two dozen small providers submitted a letter saying the FCC’s “heavy-handed rules ‘affect our ability to find financing.’” A coalition of 19 municipal internet service providers—city-owned nonprofits—told the FCC that they, “often delay or hold off from rolling out a new feature or service because [they] cannot afford to deal with a potential complaint and enforcement action,” he said. 

As he “cut through the hysteria and hot air” surrounding net neutrality, Pai said the change he wants his colleagues to vote on at the December 14 meeting will “bring back the same framework that governed the internet for most of its existence.” He called it “light touch regulation,” unlike “destroying the internet” or “ending the internet as we know it,” that he’s reading from the opposition in the media lately.

Returning to the theme that the 2015 change was bad for consumers, Pai said: “In the two years of the Title II era, broadband network investment declined by $3.6 billion—or more than five percent. Notably, this is the first time that such investment has declined outside of a recession in the internet era.”

Inside Towers reported that some of the opposition has gotten personal-including posting signs with the names of Pai’s children in front of the Chairman’s home. USTelecom issued a statement on such “harassment” Tuesday from its CEO Jonathan Spalter that reads: “Efforts to intimidate Chairman Pai and his young family through racist language and other acts are reprehensible and have no place in our civil society. We join others in condemning these actions.”  

Pai himself yesterday didn’t allude to the actions specifically, but in more of a general sense. He spoke of one point “that’s been brought home to me the past few days.” The debate needs, “our culture needs, a more informed discussion about public policy. We need quality information, not hysteria, because hysteria takes us to unpleasant, if not dangerous places. We can disagree on policy. But we shouldn’t demonize, especially when all of us share the same goal of a free and open internet.”

On the other side of the debate, tech companies including Twitter, Reddit and Airbnb argued on Monday that net neutrality is needed to ensure small e-commerce firms can compete on a level playing field with larger industry players. “Our current net neutrality rules support innovation and give all businesses the opportunity to compete equally for consumers,” they wrote in a Cyber Monday letter to the Commission. “Without these rules, internet service providers will be able to favor certain websites and e-businesses, or the platforms they use to garner new customers, over others by putting the ones that can pay in fast lanes and slowing down or even blocking others.”

By Leslie Stimson, Inside Towers Washington Bureau Chief

November 29, 2017                               

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