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Tell Your Senators: Should Anti-Net Neutrality FCC Chairman Stay or Go?

by Countable | 9.29.17

What’s the story?

"Goodbye" or "Good Pai,” that's the question the Senate must answer.

On Monday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) filed cloture on the re-nomination of Ajit Pai to head the Federal Communications Commission. The vote will be held next week.

But not everyone wants to see Pai continue as FCC Chairman—most notably because of his opposition to net neutrality.

In 2015, the FCC crafted regulations to ban Internet service providers (ISPs) from throttling speeds to certain sites and giving preference to some sites over others. But Pai said these "net neutrality" rules unfairly burden the ISPs, especially "mom and pop" ones, and that the government should not preemptively impose regulations on ISPs.

"My concern is that, by imposing those heavy-handed economic regulations on Internet service providers big and small, we could end up disincentivizing companies from wanting to build out Internet access to a lot of parts of the country, in low-income, urban and rural areas," Pai said.

Pai’s position on net neutrality has made him the target of open-Internet advocates, including Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA), who took to the Senate floor on Wednesday to announce her opposition to Pai.

"I’m not going to vote for someone who is going to slow down and clog the Internet. And I urge my colleagues to vote no on Chairman Pai and his nomination," Cantwell told her fellow senators.

"As the chairman of the [FCC], he has demonstrated a disdain to these important public interest principles that he's supposed to be upholding. And it shows a disregard for the innovators in America that are striving so much to build the economy of the future."

President Trump nominated Pai, a Republican, to run the FCC in January. If Pai isn’t re-confirmed, he’d have to leave the FCC at the end of this year.

Why does it matter?

The idea of net neutrality is that all Internet traffic should be free to run at equal speeds. Some large ISPs support rules that would allow them to prioritize or speed-up the communications of certain sites over others, or even block some sites. Under current law, ISPs like Comcast, Verizon and AT&T are barred from dictating which sites their clients may access, or throttle-down the speed of certain sites.

To better understand this theory in practice, consider Comcast, just one of many large companies that delivers the Internet to millions of Americans. Comcast is affiliated with television producer NBC. Without net neutrality rules, Comcast would be free to promote NBC’s content over ABC’s, and/or provide slower load times for ABC.com. The Internet is currently an open superhighway; without net neutrality, that highway could have fast and slow lanes.

The FCC solicited comments on its proposal to kill net neutrality, and received a record-breaking 22 million replies, the majority of which supported net neutrality.

Cantwell referenced these numbers when she said that Pai’s plans "go against more than 10 million American consumers and innovators who have told him to keep the Internet open and free."

But Pai has argued that if the U.S. introduces strong net neutrality protections, it could provide a green light for authoritarian states to crack down on online freedoms.

"If in the United States we adopt regulations that assert more government control over how the Internet operates... it becomes a lot more difficult for us to go on the international stage and tell governments: ‘Look, we want you to keep your hands off the Internet,’" Pai said. “Even if the ideas aren’t completely identical, you can appreciate the optical difficult[y] in trying to make that case."

A Senate vote on whether to give Pai another five-year term on the FCC is scheduled for next week.

What do you think?

Should the Senate re-confirm Pai and his plan to roll back net-neutrality rules? Or do you agree with Cantwell that senators should vote no on "someone who is going to slow down and clog the internet"? Hit the Take Action button to tell your Senator how to vote—then share your comments below.

—Josh Herman

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(Photo Credit: posteriori / iStockphoto)

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