Verizon, FCC Chairman Pai Spin Web of Deceit to Steal Your Internet Freedom
Who Is Ajit Pai?
Current Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman, Ajit Pai was virtually unknown to the public before taking the post, but he has long fought against consumer protection laws. Before being appointed to the FCC by President Barack Obama in May 2012 (received unanimous support), Pai was best known for his stint as associate general counsel for Verizon, serving between 2001 to 2003.
Despite over 80% of Americans supporting net neutrality regulations, Pai recently attempted to defend his opposition to the Open Internet Order of 2015 which reclassified Internet Service Providers (ISPs) as common carriers under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934:
So what happened after the Commission adopted Title II? Sure enough, infrastructure investment declined. Reduced investment means fewer Americans will have high-speed internet access. It means fewer Americans will have jobs. And it means less competition for consumers. It’s basic economics: The more heavily you regulate something, the less of it you’re likely to get.
However, as AJ Dellinger of International Business Times (IBT) explains, Pai’s comments on Title II classification seem to be completely disingenuous based on his time at Verizon and his record since beginning at the FCC:
At the time, the commission voted to reclassify the internet as a common carrier under Title II of the Telecommunications Act, which gave the FCC the regulatory authority to enforce net neutrality principles — which include no blocking of content, no throttling or slowing connections, and no paid prioritization.
Why Is Title II Classification Important?
Title II of the Communications Act of 1934 directly details the protections the legislation provides consumers:
PART I–COMMON CARRIER REGULATION
SEC. 201. [47 U.S.C. 201] SERVICE AND CHARGES.
(a)It shall be the duty of every common carrier engaged in interstate or foreign communication by wire or radio to furnish such communication service upon reasonable request therefor; and, in accordance with the orders of the Commission, in cases where the Commission, after opportunity for hearing, finds such action necessary or desirable in the public interest, to establish physical connections with other carriers, to establish through routes and charges applicable thereto and the divisions of such charges, and to establish and provide facilities and regulations for operating such through routes.
The legislation continues:
(b) All charges, practices, classifications, and regulations for and in connection with such communication service, shall be just and reasonable, and any such charge, practice, classification, or regulation that is unjust or unreasonable is hereby declared to be unlawful: Provided, That communications by wire or radio subject to this Act may be classified into day, night, repeated, unrepeated, letter, commercial, press, Government and such other classes as the Commission may decide to be just and reasonable, and different charges may be made for the different classes of comunications: Provided further, That nothing in this Act or in any other provision of law shall be construed to prevent a common carrier subject to this Act from entering into or operating under any contract with any common carrier not subject to this Act, for the exchange of their services, if the Commission is of the opinion that such contract is not contrary to the public interest: Provided further, That nothing in this Act or in any other provision of law shall prevent a common carrier subject to this Act from furnishing reports of positions of ships at sea to newspapers of general circulation, either at a nominal charge or without charge, provided the name of such common carrier is displayed along with such ship position reports. The Commissioner may prescribe such rules and regulations as may be necessary in the public interest to carry out the provisions of this Act.
Most importantly, Title II classification protects against discrimination based on class and ethnic backgrounds and enacts fines for common carries who are found in violation of Title II:
SEC. 202. [47 U.S.C. 202]
DISCRIMINATION AND PREFERENCES.
(a) It shall be unlawful for any common carrier to make any unjust or unreasonable discrimination in charges, practices, classifications, regulations, facilities, or services for or in connection with like communication service, directly or indirectly, by any means or device, or to make or give any undue or unreasonable preference or advantage to any particular person, class of persons, or locality, or to subject any particular person, class of persons, or locality to any undue or unreasonable prejudice or disadvantage.
(b) Charges or services, whenever referred to in this Act, include charges for, or services in connection with, the use of common carrier lines of communication, whether derived from wire or radio facilities, in chain broadcasting or incidental to radio communication of any kind.
(c) Any carrier who knowingly violates the provisions of this section shall forfeit to the United States the sum of $6,000 for each such offense and $300 for each and every day of the continuance of such offense.
Pai And Telecommunications Giants Defend Deregulation
While facing scrutiny for his new proposal, Pai submitted an Op-Ed to the LA Times to further explain his rationale. Most of which was spent defending deregulation in a macro sense, despite the harm wide-scale deregulation has done to the economy, environment, and health of the American populace.
Yet, his introduction to his opinion piece goes a long way into understanding his true intentions:
In 2012, Kevin Durant, James Harden and Russell Westbrook — all age 23 or younger — led the Oklahoma City Thunder to the NBA finals. But that team never got a chance to compete for another title, because the Thunder traded Harden away for fear that having three superstars would, someday, create salary cap concerns. How did that transaction work out? Harden is a perennial MVP contender for the Houston Rockets, Durant left for Golden State and Westbrook has struggled to hold the team together. Many Thunder fans would give anything to undo a trade motivated by speculative fears.
This story can be seen as a parable for Internet regulation. Two years ago, the federal government jettisoned an approach that was working in response to fears about what might happen at some point in the future. Beginning in the Clinton administration, there was for nearly two decades a broad bipartisan consensus that the best Internet policy was light-touch regulation—rules that promoted competition and kept the Internet “unfettered by federal or state regulation.” Under this policy, a free and open Internet flourished. The world’s most successful online companies blossomed right here in the United States. And American consumers benefited from unparalleled innovation.
An anonymous professor from Harvey Mudd College responded to Pai’s editorial several days later, also in an Op-Ed submitted to the LA Times. The piece is short, but debunks the entirety of Pai’s argument:
When a bureaucrat begins an argument about technology with a completely irrelevant sports analogy —in this case, the trading away by the NBA’s Oklahoma City Thunder of two superstars as a way to avoid the league’s salary cap — you can be confident he’s trying to flimflam you.
Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai casts the debate as “lawyers and bureaucrats” (evil) versus “engineers, technologists and businesses” (good). By lumping the latter three into a single category, he obscures the fact that the engineers and technologists largely support regulation of the businesses that have been stifling, not stimulating, advancement in Internet technology.
Pai’s fundamental argument is that nothing bad has happened, so nothing bad will happen. But to do so he has to ignore the fact that bad things have already happened, with Internet firms repeatedly trying to charge companies like Google and Netflix for connections we consumers have already paid for.
While some try to conflate the two issues, Title II and net neutrality are not the same. Title II is a source of authority to impose enforceable net neutrality rules. Title II is not net neutrality. Getting rid of Title II does not mean that we are repealing net neutrality protections for American consumers.
We want to be very clear: As Brian Roberts, our Chairman and CEO stated, and as Dave Watson, President and CEO of Comcast Cable writes in his blog post today, we have and will continue to support strong, legally enforceable net neutrality protections that ensure a free and Open Internet for our customers, with consumers able to access any and all the lawful content they want at any time. Our business practices ensure these protections for our customers and will continue to do so.
Verizon’s current general counsel, Craig Silliman has recently come out to state that Verizon has never been against net neutrality rules – despite the corporation having sued the FCC to eliminate them in the past. “The FCC is not talking about killing the net neutrality rules, and in fact, not we nor any other ISP are asking them to kill the open Internet rules,” Silliman stated in a video released by Verizon. Jon Brodokin breaks down why Silliman’s comments aren’t accurate.
Silliman’s claim that “the FCC is not talking about killing the net neutrality rules” is contradicted by the text of Pai’s proposal. To begin with, simply shifting the rules to a new legal regime might not work because of Verizon’s previous victory in court. Beyond that, Pai’s proposal says that the rules against blocking, throttling, and paid prioritization were issued “despite virtually no quantifiable evidence of consumer harm.” The proposal goes on to suggest that ISPs throttling Internet websites and applications might somehow be good for customers and that a ban on paid prioritization may be “suppress[ing] pro-competitive activity.”
To leave the FCC a comment about net neutrality and the open internet, follow this link. Click either “+ New Filing” or “+ Express Filing.” The express option allows you to make a comment without uploading documents.
Featured image composite by Reverb Press; Ajit Pai by Ethan Miller/Getty Images, Verizon Logo via Fair Use.
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