The chairman of the Federal Communications Commission wants to get rid of the rules governing the internet known as net neutrality, which could change the web as we know it and have devastating ramifications for business and innovation.
Ajit Pai, appointed FCC chairman by President Trump this January, has argued for years that the government body should be nimble and have as light of a regulatory touch as possible. In an interview with the WSJ about the future of the internet, he said that “the essential question is whether we want it to be governed by technologists and engineers and businesspeople . . . or by government lawyers and bureaucrats here in Washington." The problem for Pai is that the businesses you’d expect to support a hands-off government approach are calling his bluff when it comes to the laws of the web.
On Cyber Monday, more than 200 internet companies and businesses, including Twitter, Reddit, Airbnb and Tumblr sent a letter to the FCC, imploring them to keep net neutrality intact. It stated, "An internet without net neutrality protections would be the opposite of the open market, with a few powerful cable and phone companies picking winners and losers instead of consumers." This followed Pai’s release of a plan to kill the Obama era rules if he gets the support of the rest of the commission in a vote that is scheduled for December 14.
Net neutrality is an attempt to keep the internet on a level playing field. Without the rules, advocates worry that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) will use tricks like paid prioritization, charging websites and companies more for speed and essentially creating fast and slow lanes online.
Craig Aaron, president and CEO of Free Press, told me in an interview for "Salon Now" that dismantling net neutrality would inhibit innovation. “Suddenly you have to go to AT&T or you have to go to Comcast for permission to innovate," Craig said. “They’re gonna want a piece of your product. If you compete with them, maybe they have a lot of reason to try to undermine or undercut your product.”
The FCC received a record 22 million comments on the issue this summer, and it’s been reported that 1.3 million of anti-net neutrality comments were fake. It was an overwhelming response for a regulatory body used to scant public attention, and yet Pai made no mention of the outpouring of opinion in his announcement to kill the rules. Pai worked as a lawyer for Verizon before being appointed to the FCC and has provided an abundantly clear example of how the revolving door between Washington and industry works.
Watch the video above to hear Craig explain why phone and cable companies have been pushing to undo these regulations and why they’re the ones who stand to benefit.
Net neutrality supporters are gearing up to continue fighting if the FCC vote on December 14 brings bad news. The issue can head to both Congress and the courts next.