Indian-origin Ajit Pai, the chief of the telecom and broadcasting regulator, US Federal Communications Commission (FCC), is backing a plan to end unhindered and non-discriminatory access to the internet, a controversial proposal that was first mooted by online giants such as Facebook in 2015.
Ajit Pai has revealed a proposal that looks to cut down the net neutrality law in US thereby allowing big cable companies to erect barriers and tolls that impede the free movement of data around the internet. Net neutrality in simple words mean that no specific site or content can be given any preference and also no internet service provider (ISPs) can charge users differently for accessing different sites or content.
The proposal coming from an Indian-origin person seems a little out of place as India in 2015 fought a heady battle for net neutrality triggered by Facebook’s Free Basics programme that claimed to provided internet to many citizens for the first time.
During a major speech in Washington, D.C., Pai outlined the need for a total revision of existing federal rules that seek to prevent companies like AT&T, Charter, Comcast* and Verizon from blocking or slowing down web content, including the movie or music offerings from their competitors.
To Pai, the FCC had erred back in 2015 when the agency — then under Democratic control — adopted “heavy-handed regulations,” he said, that treat internet providers similar to traditional utilities, like old-fashioned telephone companies.
Serving as an FCC commissioner at the time, Pai sided with the telecom industry, which saw the Obama administration’s move as a precursor to even greater regulation. Now that he’s the agency’s chairman, Pai said Wednesday that he plans to kick off a process next month to replace the net neutrality protections currently on the government’s books, possibly with something that’s perhaps more voluntary in nature.
“Nothing about the internet was broken in 2015,” Pai said. “Nothing about the law had changed. And there wasn’t a rash of internet service providers blocking customers from accessing the content, applications or services of their choice.”
Free Basics’ roadblock started as internet activists and organizations wrote to India’s telecom regulator TRAI (Telecom Regulatory Authority of India) forcing it to float a consultation paper and later suspend Free Basics operations in the country. The India situation had attracted global attention and US as a case study in favor of net neutrality was pointed out several times during the discussion.
But now that Pai or the Republican government wants to cancel laws ensuring net neutrality in US, countries such as India might have to eventually do away with it or face heavy opposition. Pai in a conference on Thursday called the rules “heavy handed” and said their implementation was “all about politics.” He argued that they hurt investment and said that small internet providers don’t have “the means or the margins” to withstand the regulatory onslaught.
“Earlier today I shared with my fellow commissioners a proposal to reverse the mistake of Title II and return to the light touch framework that served us so well during the Clinton administration, Bush administration, and first six years of the Obama administration,” Pai said.
The Republican government’s proposal through Pai wants to do three things — first, it’ll reclassify internet providers as Title I information services; second, it’ll prevent the FCC from adapting any net neutrality rules to practices that internet providers haven’t thought up yet; and third, it’ll open questions about what to do with several key net neutrality rules — like no blocking or throttling of apps and websites — that were implemented in 2015. However, Pai’s proposal has kicked up a storm in the US and nearly 800 startups have written to the FCC saying the rule change will kill them. The net neutrality proposal will be up for vote at a FCC meeting on May 18th.