Ajit Pai Responds to Celebrities, ‘Verified Liberals,’ Net Neutrality Concerns

In his remarks on Net Neutrality reform today, FCC chairman Ajit Pai responded to a number of arguments made by defenders of the existing Net Neutrality framework, zeroing in on those made by celebrities with “large online followings.”

“Given that some of the more eye-catching critiques have come from Hollywood celebrities, whose large online followings give them out-sized influence in shaping the public debate, I thought I’d directly respond to some of their assertions” said Pai in his speech.

One of the key complaints made by Net Neutrality advocates, including former Star Trek actor and alleged sex pest George Takei, is that without the current regulatory framework, ISPs would split their services up into packages.

The concern has also gained traction on the internet due to the following viral graphic (which, weirdly, portrays the hypothetical post-Net Neutrality internet as cheaper than its supposedly more consumer-friendly predecessor).

Net Neutrality advocates have also been sharing a graphic that incorrectly portrays this kind of system operating in Portugal. In reality, the graphic depicts Portugal’s mobile internet plans.

Responding to this point, Pai pointed out that ISPs are already allowed to split their services up into packages, and have not done so.

For one thing, the Obama Administration itself made clear that curated Internet packages are lawful in the United States under the Commission’s 2015 rules. That’s right: the conduct described in a graphic that is currently being spread around the Internet is currently allowed under the previous Administration’s Title II rules. So, for example, if broadband providers want to offer a $10 a month package where you could only access a few websites like Twitter and Facebook, they can do that today. Indeed, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals recently pointed out that net neutrality rules don’t prohibit these curated offerings.

So the complaint by Mr. Takei and others doesn’t hold water. They’re arguing that if the plan is adopted, Internet service providers would suddenly start doing something that net-neutrality rules already allow them to do. But the reason that Internet service providers aren’t offering such packages now, and likely won’t offer such packages in the future, is that American consumers by and large don’t want them.

Additionally, as several fact-checkers have pointed out, as part of the European Union, Portugal does have net neutrality regulations! Moreover, the graphic relates to supplemental data plans featuring specific apps that customers could get from one provider, beyond the various unrestricted base plans that provider offered. As one report put it, this example “is pointing to an example that has nothing to do with net neutrality.”

Pai also addressed one of the more fundamental misconceptions about Net Neutrality reform: that it would lead to an internet completely free of regulation and oversight.

Perhaps the most common criticism is that ending Title II utility-style regulation will mean the end of the Internet as we know it. Or, as Kumail Nanjiani, a star of HBO’s Silicon Valley put it, “We will never go back to a free Internet.”

But here’s the simple truth: We had a free and open Internet for two decades before 2015, and we’ll have a free and open Internet going forward.

Many critics don’t seem to understand that we are moving from heavy-handed regulation to lighttouch regulation, not a completely hands-off approach. We aren’t giving anybody a free pass. We are simply shifting from one-size-fits-all pre-emptive regulation to targeted enforcement based on actual market failure or anticompetitive conduct.

For example, the plan would restore the authority of the Federal Trade Commission, America’s premier consumer protection agency, to police the practices of Internet service providers. And if companies engage in unfair, deceptive, or anticompetitive practices, the Federal Trade Commission would be able to take action. This framework for protecting a free and open Internet worked well in the past, and it will work well again. Chairman Ohlhausen will soon offer further details.

The plan would also empower the Federal Trade Commission to once again police broadband providers’ privacy and data security practices. In 2015, we stripped the Federal Trade Commission of that authority. But the plan would put the nation’s most experienced privacy cop back on the beat. That should be a welcome development for every American who cares about his or her privacy.

Finally, Pai highlighted what has been one of his major selling points on Net Neutrality reform: that it will lead to increased investment in rural broadband.

Another concern I’ve heard is that the plan will harm rural and low-income Americans. Cher, for example, has tweeted that the Internet “Will Include LESS AMERICANS NOT MORE” if my proposal is adopted. But the opposite is true. The digital divide is all too real. Too many rural and low-income Americans are still unable to get high-speed Internet access. But heavy-handed Title II regulations just make the problem worse! They reduce investment in broadband networks, especially in rural and low income areas. By turning back time, so to speak, and returning Internet regulation to the pre-2015 era, we will expand broadband networks and bring high-speed Internet access to more Americans, not fewer.

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