Ajit Pai is the current Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission.

Twilight hours of net neutrality approach

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The Federal Communications Commission’s Chariman Ajit Pai voiced concerns on Nov. 28 over the potential dangers of sites such as Google and Twitter at an event held by R Street Institute. A TechCrunch article by Devin Coldeway details a bizarre quote from Pai’s speech at the event in which he stated that such websites “are a much bigger actual threat to an open Internet than broadband providers, especially when it comes to discrimination on the basis of viewpoint… So let’s be clear. They might cloak their advocacy in the public interest, but the real interest of these Internet giants is in using the regulatory process to cement their dominance in the Internet economy.”

However, the comment overlooks the basic right of websites to express their perspectives through their own content, and Pai may have just attracted the wrong kind of attention to conflicts of interest as an FCC Chairman who favors deregulation and an end to net neutrality.

Many consumers and legislators take issue with undoing the laws in place concerning net neutrality. The Declaratory Ruling clause of “Restoring Internet Freedom” intends to “Restore the classification of broadband Internet access service as an ‘information service’“ instead of its current classification it as a utility. The utility classification was given partly because internet access is necessary to make and send most job applications in present-day America; it serves as a means of paying bills, communications and shopping to name a few more of its myriad consumer uses.

The wording of “Restoring Internet Freedom” favors deregulating internet service providers rather than focusing on consumers’ rights which returned the internet’s legal classification to its status an information service. The FCC’s document refers to the domain name system multiple times as too distinct from telecommunications management to be protected as a utility, deeming it an end user function. This is because the utility exceptions that apply to telecommunications are “directed at internal operations, not at services for customers or end users” (para 35-117). However, the document also admits the necessity of DNS to the average American. Paragraph 35 states “DNS does not merely ‘manage’ a telecommunications service, as some commenters assert, but rather is a function that is useful and essential to providing Internet access for the ordinary consumer.” According to the FCC, legal precedent shows that end user functions should not be under their previous classification as a utility.

The 2015 decision to change the classification of the internet from a utility to an information service is described by “Restoring Internet Freedom” as relying too heavily on Computer Inquiries section of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 and neglecting the findings of the Modification of Final Judgment in the 1982 antitrust case between AT&T and Bell Operating companies. This is disturbing because while the legal decisions used to determine the FCC’s findings are well established, the MFJ was written at a time before the Internet existed and the prevalence of the Internet has grown drastically and almost exclusively in the past twenty years. Plus, comparing telecommunications management from the 1980s and digital network management is like comparing apples and oranges.

One of the foundational goals of “Restoring Internet Freedom” is to eliminate the Internet Conduct Standard. The FCC’s Commissioner Ajit Pai argues that the rules in place via the Internet Conduct Standard are too restrictive to investment and entrepreneurship in the internet. Paragraph 18 of “Restoring Internet Freedom” states “Specifically, the Internet Freedom [Notice of Proposed Rulemaking] NPRM proposed to eliminate the Internet conduct standard and the non-exhaustive list of factors intended to guide application of that rule.”

Paragraph 17 also criticizes the November 2014 classification of broadband as a utility the February 2015 legislation by the FCC to protect consumers from dubious ISP practices: “The Commission also adopted no-blocking, no-throttling, and no-paid-prioritization rules, as well as a general Internet conduct standard and ‘enhancements’ to the transparency rule.” This is a prime example of how “Restoring Internet Freedom” repeatedly victimizes ISPs as companies trying to reason with the government to turn a profit and argues against consumers’ rights. The previous language of the proposed legislation opens the door for ISPs to slow down and block web content of their choosing, and it decreases the potential for ISPs to be reprimanded, investigated or punished for unethical business standards and practices.