On Monday, Feb. 27, a man in a navy blue sports jacket and light pink tie stepped onto stage at the annual Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. This is the world’s largest gathering of the mobile industry each year. Big corporate CEOs and other mobile company officials come out to wine and dine with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) officials and other top names in the mobile world. The man in the navy blue sports jacket began his speech. Why is he relevant, you might ask? He is the newly appointed chairman of the FCC and could potentially be the man who will destroy the Internet.
His name is Ajit Pai and as chairman of the FCC, his views on corporate internet regulations trouble those who believe in “Net Neutrality.” This is the idea that internet providers should provide us with open networks. It means that these corporations must not discriminate between different websites or content. Without such regulation, multinational corporations can control the speed of various services based on if such services can pay a fee. Or, potentially, if it benefits them politically. Who knows?
In Pai’s speech at the Mobile World Congress, he called the 2015 FCC ruling allowing for this regulation of corporations a “mistake,” as he called for “light-touch regulation.” As a former Verizon Communications general counsel member, and a recent partner of Jenner & Block, known for its representing of mobile corporations, he has been paid throughout his career by the same large corporations he is about to roll back regulations on. It is not only his history of lobbying for these business interests, but his stated opinions that make people believe he is a threat to net neutrality.
Pai said at the World Congress, “We are confident in the decades-long, cross-party consensus on light touch internet regulation, one that helped America’s digital economy thrive, and we are on track to return to that successful approach.” Note the word return. He uses this word, because he wants to return to the pre 2015 FFC ruling era and go even further in rolling back corporate regulations.
He has already taken steps to do so. Pai decided recently that the FCC will stop investigating carriers for “zero-rating” programs, which excludes certain services from monthly data limits. T-Mobile, AT&T, and Verizon are all under scrutiny for treating certain data differently from others. This violates the idea of net neutrality and with more investigation the FCC could have found that it also violated regulatory law. Thanks to Pai, we may never know.
Another early move that could forecast the future sanctity of the internet is a ruling Pai sent out that limits 9 internet service providers from serving Lifeline participants, a program designed to provide low-income families with broadband access. He did so with no public proceeding or even any input from bi-partisan members of the committee. This is a move, as Free Press policy, director Matt Wood put it, “to put vertically integrated ISPs on notice against prioritizing their own content, and to send a message to broadcasters that covert consolidation won’t be tolerated.” Wood said, “The public wants an FCC that helps people. Instead, it got one that does favors for the powerful corporations its chairman used to work for.”
It is no secret that Pai wants to slash regulations to protect this idea of net neutrality. Now, it is imminent. But why is net neutrality so important? Well, think about how often you use the internet on a daily basis. It is constant.
If your Internet access is limited, think about how much your life is limited. It allows for these corporations to charge a fee, some may call it a ransom, to different sources and sites for fair and fast access. If corporations have the power to slow down the speed of websites that they don’t like, that threatens democracy. The Internet is the most effective and innovative way to share ideas with the rest of the world. Without net neutrality, multinational businesses can line their pockets with our money, while restricting our freedom at the same time.
As Minnesota Senator Al Franken put it, “I think the Internet has developed at this incredibly rapid pace because of net neutrality — because of the free nature of it.” Attempts to end these regulations are attacks at just that, the “free nature” of the internet.
As Pai concluded his speech at the 2017 Mobile World Congress, he stepped off the stage to applause from the audience. This makes sense, considering his audience is a group of vastly wealthy individuals who could essentially own access to the internet if these roll backs happen. To stop this, a joint effort from the left and the right might need to take place.
With Pai running the show, it seems that these regulations could be gutted at a remarkably swift and lethal pace. This could signify the end to internet freedom and severely pierce democracy in its new-found heart; the World Wide Web.