Ajit Pai is the Trump-nominated chairman of the United States’ Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the government body charged with regulating the internet and enforcing net neutrality. He is also an ex-employee of telecommunications conglomerate Verizon.
Under his watch, the FCC has already shafted every American internet user by allowing their Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to sell or share their detailed web browsing histories and geolocation data with advertisers and partner companies.
Then, on 21 November, Pai tabled the final draft of the FCC’s plans to gut net neutrality, with the final vote to follow at an open meeting on 14 December.
Restoring Internet Freedom Order
The full text of the final draft, dubbed the “’Restoring Internet Freedom Order,” is expected to be released to the public in the next couple of days. The thrust of its content, however, is starkly clear:
“Today, I have shared with my colleagues a draft order that would abandon this failed approach and return to the long-standing consensus that served consumers well for decades. Under my proposal, the federal government will stop micromanaging the Internet.”
Responsibility for policing abuses by ISPs would instead revert back to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
“As a result of my proposal, the Federal Trade Commission will once again be able to police ISPs, protect consumers, and promote competition, just as it did before 2015. Notably, my proposal will put the federal government’s most experienced privacy cop, the FTC, back on the beat to protect consumers’ online privacy.”
The FTC, however, has so-far proven to be an ineffectual watchdog, and one that is likely to have little in the way of teeth when it comes to going after ISPs that flout the proposed ”light-touch, market-based” rules.
What Is Net Neutrality?
Net neutrality is the idea that ISPs and governments treat all internet traffic equally. It means “not discriminating or charging differentially by user, content, site, platform, application, type of attached equipment, and modes of communication.”
It is a cornerstone of innovation and free expression on the internet. Without net neutrality, the internet simply wouldn’t have been the success that it is. Without net neutrality:
ISPs Can Discriminate Against Rival Services
For example by throttling (or even blocking) content providers such as Netflix, Facebook and Google, while giving customers unlimited, prioritized access to their own services.
This is happening already. Verizon exempts its Go90 service from its customers’ data plans, AT&T does the same for its own DirecTV Now online streaming, and T-Mobile has made deals with content providers to allow their customers to bypass its usual data limits.
Innovation Is Stifled
Netflix, Facebook and Google can probably afford to pay ISPs to supply increased bandwidth for their services. Start-up companies, however, will be unable to do this. This will effectively leave small, innovative companies dead in the water, while strengthening the monopolistic stranglehold that large, established companies have on the internet.
The Internet Will Become Fragmented into Two or More “Tiers”
Less well-off customers will be targeted for special “cable-style” internet packages that only provide access to selected services. Unrestricted access to the internet will only be made available to those who can afford to pay for it. This will deepen the digital divide and lead to increased economic and social inequality.
There is also nothing nothing to prevent ISPs from throttling or even completely censoring content on political, social, or religious grounds. In other words, big money will be permitted to ride roughshod over the interests of the common people.
Pai and His Lies
Ajit Pai asserts without any evidence that:
“In 2015, the prior FCC bowed to pressure from President Obama. On a party-line vote, it imposed heavy-handed, utility-style regulations upon the Internet. Decision was a mistake. It’s depressed investment in building and expanding broadband networks and deterred innovation.”
As an alternative, Pai argues that market forces will regulate ISPs and protect consumers, as they will be free to choose the internet service that meets their needs.
In a free and open market this might be true, but it blatantly ignores the reality on the ground. Outside the big East and West Coast cities, some 50 million US homes are served by a single high-speed internet company, while many don’t have even have that.
The problem is compounded by the fact that many smaller ISPs currently lease their trunk fiber-optic internet access from the big providers.
This all means that, rather than increasing consumer choice, tens of millions of ordinary internet users will be placed even more at the monopolistic mercy of rapacious ISPs such as Verizon, Comcast, and T-Mobile.
It is precisely because of this that smaller ISPs are strongly opposed to the changes.
Even More Lies
In order to bolster his case with a show of public support for his proposals, Pai earlier this year opened them up to public comment. What soon became abundantly clear, however, is that he had zero intention of heeding the results of this consultation.
In fact, the FCC’s attitude towards the entire process was frankly scandalous. Examples include:
- Up to 20% of comments received by the FCC appeared to have been submitted by spam bots using identities obtained via an online data breach. When some of those who were impersonated (or their relatives, in the case that comments were ostensibly submitted by people who were dead) complained, the FCC chose to ignore them and treat the comments as valid.
- After comedian and TV host John Oliver encouraged viewers to comment in support of net neutrality, the FCC website crashed. This resulted in a large number of pro-net neutrality comments being lost. The FCC blamed a distributed denial of service (DDoS) cyberattack for the rather convenient incident, but declined to provide any evidence to back up this claim.
- Despite overwhelming support for net neutrality in the comments, Ajit Pai chose to single out one letter sent by 19 nonprofit municipal broadband providers in support of the proposed changes. The vast majority of small ISPs have, however, urged Pai to keep Title II protections in place.
The FCC has still not published the final results of the consultation, which ended in July (although the huge number of pro-FCC submissions by spambots would likely make any such results highly unreliable anyway).
- “2 million+ comments to the FCC. This is a new record for comments gathered on a single day, beating last fight’s numbers by 3 times at least.
- 5 million+ emails to Congress
- Nearly 125,000 calls to Congress
- Over 20 verified in-person protests at Congressional offices
- And, of course, some amazing GIFs to save the Internet.”
It is clear, in other words, that most people are strongly opposed to the FCCs proposals, and in favor of maintaining the current FCC net neutrality protections.
Donald Trump promised to “drain the swamp,” but his administration has consistently sided with big business interests and against those of the ordinary consumer. As Corynne McSherry, Legal Director at Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), notes,
“The FCC’s new approach invites a future where only the largest Internet, cable, and telephone companies survive, while every start-up, small business, and new innovator is crowded out – and the voices of nonprofits and ordinary individuals are suppressed.
“Costs will go up, as ISPs take advantage of monopoly power to raise rates on edge providers and consumers alike. And the FCC’s proposed plan adds salt to the wound by interfering with state efforts to protect consumer privacy and competition. The FCC today abdicates a fundamental responsibility.”
Save the Internet has a petition you can sign to register opposition to the FCC’s plans, and Fight For The Future is encouraging US citizens to put pressure on their Congress representatives to vote against them. We can only hope that it is not too late.