FCC Chairman Ajit Pai thinks everyone from Cher to Twitter has it wrong when they say that his efforts to roll back the U.S. government's existing net neutrality rules will spell the death of the web.
Instead, Pai said during an event in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday that tech giants could pose the greatest threat by discriminating against viewpoints on the internet. "They might cloak their advocacy in the public interest," he said, "but the real interest of these internet giants is in using the regulatory process to cement their dominance in the internet economy."
The surprising rebuke came as Pai forged ahead with his plan to end the net neutrality protections adopted by the Federal Communications Commission under former President Barack Obama. Those rules subject broadband providers like AT&T, Charter, Comcast and Verizon to utility-style regulation, all in a bid to stop them from blocking access to web pages, slowing down connections or prioritizing some content over others.
Pai has maintained that the rules, adopted in 2015, are "heavy handed," and his proposal would eliminate them entirely. To critics, it would open the door for so-called online fast lanes, where broadband providers charge content makers for faster delivery of their movies or music. To Pai, it would help broadband investment in the United States. A vote is slated for December.
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To begin, though, the Republican FCC chairman took sharp aim at his critics on Tuesday— deriding "Hollywood celebrities, whose large online followings give them out-sized influence in shaping the public debate."
In recent days, the likes of Kumail Nanjiani, a star of HBO's "Silicon Valley;" Mark Ruffalo, who played the Hulk in "The Avengers;" and even noted telecom expert Cher have lambasted Pai for his repeal efforts. Pai highlighted the trio's comments, seeking to respond to each of them. Cher, for example, previously tweeted the chairman's proposal would "include LESS AMERICANS NOT MORE." But Pai said it would "expand broadband networks and bring high-speed internet access to more Americans, not fewer."
But he didn't spare tech companies from that criticism, either. Companies like Facebook, Google and Twitter — speaking through their main Washington, D.C.-based trade group, the Internet Association — have urged Pai to stand down. In response, Pai sought to make an example of Twitter. He specifically raised the fact that the company initially prevented a Republican congresswoman from promoting her tweet about abortion, only to change its mind amid a public backlash.
"Now look: I love Twitter," Pai began. "But let's not kid ourselves; when it comes to a free and open Internet, Twitter is a part of the problem. The company has a viewpoint and uses that viewpoint to discriminate."
"And unfortunately, Twitter is not an outlier," Pai continued. "Indeed, despite all the talk, and all the fear, that broadband providers could decide what internet content consumers can see, recent experience shows that so-called edge providers are in fact deciding what content they see. These providers routinely block or discriminate against content they don't like."
Pai then charged that companies "want to place much tougher regulations on broadband providers than they are willing to have placed upon themselves," before adding: "I don't blame them for trying. But the government shouldn't aid and abet this effort."
—By Tony Romm, Recode.net.
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