Ajit Pai says his children are being harassed over net neutrality
Ajit Pai, President Trump appointed chairman of the Federal Communications Commission is all set to scrap rules around open internet access, a move that would allow giant cable and telecom companies to throttle broadband speeds and favor their own services if they wish.
Ajit Pai followed through on a pledge to try to repeal “net neutrality” regulations enacted under the Obama administration. The current rules treat internet service providers such as Comcast, AT&T and Verizon as if they were utility companies that provide essential services, like electricity. The rules mandate that they give equal access to all online content and apps.
Pai said those rules discourage investments that could provide even better and faster online access. Instead, he said new rules would force ISPs to be transparent about their services and management policies, and then would let the market decide.
“Under my proposal, the federal government will stop micromanaging the internet,” Pai said in a statement. Pai distributed his alternative plan to other FCC commissioners in preparation for a Dec. 14 vote. Although the FCC’s two Democrats said they will oppose the proposal, the repeal is likely to prevail as Republicans dominate 3-2. The vote for net neutrality in 2015 was also along party lines, but Democrats dominated then.
Equal treatment for all web traffic has been a fundamental principle of the internet since its creation but companies have increasingly put their thumb on the scales of access. AT&T, for example, doesn’t count use of its streaming service DirecTV Now against wireless data caps, potentially making it seem cheaper to its cellphone customers than rival TV services. Rivals would have to pay AT&T for that privilege. Regulators, consumer advocates and some tech companies are concerned that repealing net neutrality will give ISPs even more power to block or slow down rival offerings.
A repeal also opens the ability for ISPs to charge a company like Netflix for a faster path to its customers. Allowing this paid-priority market to exist could skew prices and create winners and losers among fledgling companies that require a high-speed connection to end users.
Meanwhile, in an interview this week, Ajit Pai said his family has become the target of harassment. Protesters against the new policy had put up cardboard signs at Pai’s home in suburban Virginia. One sign, appearing to refer to Pai’s children, read: “They will come to know the truth. Dad murdered Democracy in cold blood.”
Pai said those signs crossed a line, even as he noted the charged debate over net neutrality. “I understand that people are passionate about policy, but the one thing in America that should remain sacred is that families, wives and kids, should remain out of it. And stop harassing us at our homes.”
Pai has said his proposal would restore a “light-touch” regulatory framework for Internet services and would stop the government from micromanaging the Internet. Broadband and wireless companies such as Comcast and Verizon applauded Pai’s move. But Internet companies and activists see the undoing of net neutrality as an invitation for corporate abuse, in which service providers block websites they do not like and charge Web companies for speedier delivery of their content.
“It was a little nerve-racking, especially for my wife,” Pai said. Pai suggested that the intense criticism leveled at him for targeting neutrality rules can lead to the type of harassment his family experienced. “That’s one of the things I think is very unfortunate about all the vitriol and hot air that’s out there is that if you keep going out there and peddling this misinformation like, ‘This is the guy who is going to break the Internet and destroy democracy,’ it’s not surprising that some people get alarmed by it.”
Pai said in a statement, “Internet regulation activists have crossed the line by threatening and harassing my family. They should leave my family out of this and focus on debating the merits of the issue.”