Federal Communications Commission Chairman (FCC) Ajit Pai directly refuted a number of assertions Tuesday made by celebrities on the issue of “net neutrality,” which deals with internet regulations imposed under the Obama administration.
“Given that some of the more eye-catching critiques have come from Hollywood celebrities, whose large online followings give them out-sized influence in shaping the public debate, I thought I’d directly respond to some of their assertions,” Pai stated in a speech organized in part by the think tank R Street. “Perhaps the most common criticism is that ending Title II utility-style regulation will mean the end of the Internet as we know it.”
Pai then recites a portion of a tweet from actor Kumail Nanjiani, who contends that if a repeal of net neutrality goes through, “we will never go back to a free internet.”
“But here’s the simple truth: We had a free and open Internet for two decades before 2015, and we’ll have a free and open Internet going forward,” Pai said. (RELATED: FCC Chair: ‘Hysterical Prophecies’ Led Dems To Almost Break The Internet In Just Two Years)
“Many critics don’t seem to understand that we are moving from heavy-handed regulation to light-touch regulation, not a completely hands-off approach,” Pai continued, highlighting an oft-referenced point of his that administrations of former Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama (for the most part) had it right. “We aren’t giving anybody a free pass. We are simply shifting from one-size-fits-all pre-emptive regulation to targeted enforcement based on actual market failure or anticompetitive conduct.”
Pai explains how his plan would restore the authority of the Federal Trade Commission, the federal agency usually in charge of policing the practices of internet service providers (ISPs).
“Another concern I’ve heard is that the plan will harm rural and low-income Americans. Cher, for example, tweeted last week that the Internet ‘Will Include LESS AMERICANS NOT MORE’ if my proposal is adopted,” Pai continued. “But the opposite is true.”
Pai, who has traveled for thousands of miles across the U.S. in recent months to visit more bucolic, remote areas, argues that “heavy-handed Title II regulations just make the problem worse.”
Net neutrality is an amorphous concept with a wavering definition. In general, it means that ISPs have to treat all internet traffic the same, and thus have no right to discriminate against certain forms of traffic. It also often means that firms can’t offer faster speeds to higher-paying customers, nor offer special deals and promotions. Placing the internet under the Title II classification, like water or electricity, is a strong mechanism for enforcing net neutrality regulations, and mandating ISPs comply with a uniform set of rules. (RELATED: Apple Says It Wants Strong Net Neutrality Rules, But Fails To Address Main Issue)
Title II regulations, according to Pai, reduces “investment in broadband networks, especially in rural and low-income areas” by cultivating uncertainty or restrictiveness for the larger business environment.
“By turning back time, so to speak, and returning Internet regulation to the pre-2015 era, we will expand broadband networks and bring high-speed Internet access to more Americans, not fewer.”
Pai also aimed to debunk claims made or supported by actors Mark Ruffalo and George Takei, as well as actress Alyssa Milano.
Takei posted an article which alleged that Portugal was dealing with the same situation as the U.S., which is false, says Pai, since the country doesn’t appear to have rules similar to net neutrality.
“Taking away #NetNeutrality is the Authoritarian dream,” Ruffalo wrote on Twitter. “Consolidating information into the hands of a few controlled by a few. Dangerous territory.”
“I will confess when I saw this tweet I was tempted to just say ‘Hulk … wrong’ and move on,” Pai joked. He said he once received an email with a similar sentiment, reading, “Do you really want to be the man who was responsible for making America another North Korea?”
Pai said such comments are “absurd” because government control over the internet is exactly what authoritative states like North Korea do, and relinquishing such power “is the exact opposite of authoritarianism.”
Joining in the cacophony of pro-net neutrality clamoring, Milano has also chimed in.
I know. We’ve faced a lot of issues threatening our democracy in the last year. But honestly, the @FCC and @AjitPaiFCC’s dismantling of #NetNeutrality is one of the biggest.
THIS IS A HUGE DEAL.
And yet #SaveNetNeutrality isn’t trending. https://t.co/LgvSJ99RLv
— Alyssa Milano (@Alyssa_Milano) November 21, 2017
“I’m threatening our democracy? Really?” Pai asked, in a perplexed, yet light-hearted manner. “I’d like to see the evidence that America’s democratic institutions were threatened by a Title I framework, as opposed to a Title II framework, during the Clinton Administration, the Bush Administration, and the first six years of the Obama Administration.”
Pai rhetorically suggested that people “don’t hold your breath” because there is no proof, at least that he’s aware of.
“If this were Who’s the Boss?, this would be an opportunity for Tony Danza to dish out some wisdom about the consequences of making things up,” Pai joked, somewhat keeping with the theme of a celebrity-filled commentary on telecommunication policy. (RELATED: WSJ Editorial Board Endorses FCC Chairman’s Rollback Of Net Neutrality Rules)
Pai’s decision to directly address celebrities’ almost-hyperbolic criticisms shows that the battle over net neutrality has morphed into monster-size proportions, in which everyone has thrusted themselves into the debate, regardless of knowledge of internet policy and the nuances of the telecommunications industry.
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