Exclusive—FCC Chairman Pai: ‘We Need an Open and Free Internet for the 21st Century’

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Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai told Breitbart News in an exclusive interview that an open and free internet is vital for America in the 21st century.

During a speech at the Newseum on Wednesday, Pai said he plans to roll back the net-neutrality regulations and to restore the light-touch regulatory system established by President Bill Clinton and Congressional Republicans by the 1996 Telecommunications Act.

Net neutrality passed under former Democrat Tom Wheeler’s FCC in 2010. The rule, known as the Open Internet Order, reclassified the internet as a public monopoly. Critics chided the rule, stating that it would diminish the freedom of the internet. Proponents argue that the regulations prevent Internet service providers from discriminating against content providers.

Chairman Pai said during his speech that the internet prospered before net neutrality was enacted. Pai said, “The internet is the greatest free market success in American history.”

Breitbart News asked the FCC chief why he thinks that net neutrality is a problem, and why we must eliminate the rule. He said:

Number one there was no problem to solve, the internet wasn’t broken in 2015. In that situation, it doesn’t seem me that preemptive market-wide regulation is necessary. Number two, even if there was a problem, this wasn’t the right solution to adopt. These Title II regulations were inspired during the Great Depression to regulate Ma Bell which was a telephone monopoly. And the broadband market we have is very different from the telephone market of 1934. So, it seems to me that if you have 4,462 internet service providers and if a few of them are behaving in a way that is anticompetitive or otherwise bad for consumer welfare then you take targeted action to deal with that. You don’t declare the entire market anticompetitive and treat everyone as if they are a monopolist.

Going forward we are going to propose eliminating that Title II classification and figure out the right way forward. The bottom line is, everyone agrees on the principles of a free and open internet what we disagree with is how many regulations are needed to preserve the internet.

During the Chairman’s speech, he referenced Robert McChesney, the founder of Free Press, and his group’s wish for the government to monopolize the internet. Pai explained that McChesney openly bragged about taking over the internet. He said, “At the moment, the battle over network neutrality is not to eliminate the telephone and cable companies. We are not at that point yet. But, the ultimate goal is to get rid of the media capitalists in the phone and cable companies and to divest them from control.”

Robert McChesney even said, “In the end, there is no real answer but to remove brick by brick the capitalist system itself, rebuilding the entire society on socialist principles.”

To put McChesney’s influence on net neutrality in context, he was cited 46 times in the Obama net neutrality order.

Pai explained that many liberal organizations, such as Free Press, and government officials hold disdain for free speech. Chairman Pai pointed out:

With respect to that particular special interest, he is still on the board, and he and another member of the board did, in fact, make a statement during the Obama administration that he would like the government to get more involved. They do ultimately see the government as the solution for all ills, the point I’m simply making is that the government generally does not do a good job of preserving freedom on a dynamic platform like the internet. Two, the very people who claim that they want net neutrality to preserve free speech on the internet are themselves fundamentally hostile to the basic First Amendment freedoms that have allowed people across the political spectrum to express their views. I think we need to be very clear-eyed about what some of these ideological motivations are.

With respect to the order itself I cannot tell you what was in the minds of the past partisan majority of the FCC other than the fact that they were dutifully following the instructions of President Obama in 2014, who in an unprecedented way compromised the agency’s independence and told us to adopt these heavy-handed regulations that we did not want to adopt.

It’s hard to predict, although the very same people that want the government to regulate the internet and they are fundamentally hostile to free speech in a variety of different ways.  They want unpopular views to be censored online; they don’t stand up to the bullies on college campuses who even violently of late resist against people, including Berkeley which is ironic that it was supposedly the birth of the free speech movement. There are some members of government who want to regulate online platforms, I mentioned in the speech that some of the Federal Election Commission members, for instance, want to restrict political speech and regulate online platforms like the Drudge Report. It seems the worst thing we want is to restrict that core value of the First Amendment to discuss political issues and if anything, else that’s exactly what the Founders had in mind when they enshrined the First Amendment in the Bill of Rights. They want people to express themselves in terms of political opinions.

Breitbart News asked Chairman Pai what impact broadband investment would have on the American economy. The FCC head explained:

It’s going to be tremendous. I did a town hall with Congresswoman Blackburn in Tennessee not long ago and the most consistent message we heard from business owners, and educators and other entrepreneurs who were in the audience is that they said they don’t see internet access as a Republican issue or a Democrat issue, they see it as an American issue. If you have high-speed internet access you can build a business you can get health care and educate your kids, you can create jobs. We need an open and free internet for the 21st century, and if that gateway is closed, we’re essentially left behind. So that’s one of the things we want to do is to promote ubiquitous internet access so that every American who wants it can get it and there’s no telling how broadly the entrepreneurial spirit can flourish if we empower Americans with access to a free and open internet.

Net neutrality sucked up a lot of oxygen and with respect to broadband I think we’re doing so much that could benefit the American people, getting more wireless spectrum in the marketplace for the use of wireless carriers and unlicensed spectrum for the use of Wi-Fi innovators. That’s going to be critical as the world goes wireless.

With respect to infrastructure, we teed up a lot of proposals for better wireline and wireless access, hopefully, we can take up action later this year. Making it easier to get access to utility poles, making it easier to lay fiber in the ground and retire old copper cables, those are the unsexy nuts and bolts issues that the FCC handles, and they produce so much more for the American consumer than they realize. I’m hopeful we can take action on that.

President Trump signed legislation that rescinded an FCC broadband privacy rule that many criticized for allowing internet service providers such as Comcast or Verizon to have greater access to consumer data. TechFreedom president Berin Szoka argued to the contrary, saying, “The FCC’s rules were unwise and unnecessary. The FCC will soon return broadband privacy policing to the Federal Trade Commission, where it belongs, like all online privacy. In the meantime, enacting this CRA will simply mean that the FCC will police broadband privacy case-by-case — just as it had done under Democratic leadership after the FCC’s 2015 Open Internet Order deprived the FTC of its consumer protection power over broadband by reclassifying broadband as a common carrier service.”

Pai explained that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), not the FCC, should be the primary regulator of consumer privacy. He also cautioned that Facebook and Google possess greater access to consumer privacy compared to internet service providers such as Verizon. He said:

I think that we need to have protections for consumer information regardless of the regulatory classification and what company holds that information. I think that the only entity that can handle this is the FTC because they have the expertise in this area and the authority we don’t necessarily have and they have the history of enforcement actions to bring with respect to privacy and data security. So, I think stripping the FTC of authority to regulate consumer privacy was the wrong way to go. The second point is that there’s asymmetric regulation here. The FCC adopted very onerous privacy regulations for internet service providers, where in reality it is not internet service providers who have a great insight into consumer activity. For example, if you’re on your cell phone you might go from your Wi-Fi network to your work Wi-Fi network to a coffee shop’s Wi-Fi network and there could four or five ISPs or even more that only capture a part of your identity, whereas some of the edge providers [e.g. Facebook and Google] have a greater insight across many different platforms and can see what you’re doing so we simply want to make sure they have a level playing field on privacy regulations. I would love to work with the chairwoman of the FTC to make sure we do that.

A group of protesters interrupted Pai at a recent FCC meeting with a live rendition of Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up.” Pai sang along with part of the chorus.

He enjoyed the stunt, saying, “I thought it was kind of funny, some of them were probably thinking that I would get angry and yell at them but number one it was a funny song, it’s one of the great internet memes of all time. I want to say, look we cherish the First Amendment here at the FCC and in this country and as long as you’re not disruptive or physically violent then have you’re say and I’m not going to get in the way. Conversely, I hope that people recognize that I have a First Amendment right to speak my mind as well and I’m not going to be intimated as well.”

The digital divide is one of the core missions that Pai works on at the FCC. He explained what he believes that divide is and how the FCC can best close that gap:

The digital divide is one of the issues that really motivates my work at the FCC that there are too many Americans disproportionately rural and low-income urban Americans who don’t have the same access to the internet and other advanced technologies as the rest of us do. The FCC’s role, I think, is to use all the tools in the toolbox to help address that gap. To close that digital divide. I’ve focused in my three months on the job, making sure that we revise the necessary repeal of infrastructure regulations to promote infrastructure investment in the private sector, to make it easier to deploy the nuts and bolts of a high-speed internet to benefit all Americans. Number two, to more wisely spend federal subsidies which Congress has given us the authority to administer in order to make sure that unserved Americans get access to the internet and some of those technologies. On a bipartisan basis, I would note, we’ve been able to take some major actions that will bear some major fruit in the years to come.

FCC Commissioner Michael O’Reilly argued on Wednesday that Congress should enact a legislative solution to enshrine the principles of a free internet in law.

Chairman Pai elaborated on his colleague’s argument, saying that a legislative solution would end the political uncertainty of internet regulation.

He said, “I think the best solution would be for Congress to tell us what they want the rules of the road to be for the FCC and the country when it comes to the digital world. Part of the problem is that we are consistently looking at 1934 laws and 1996 laws then we try to shoehorn our modern marketplace to some of those paradigms that frankly we didn’t anticipate a marketplace as dynamic as the internet. I really think that Congress, ideally looking at all the opinions, and all the constituencies they can come to a consensus. Because again as Commissioner O’Reilly pointed out we don’t want the regulatory winds to keep shifting every four or eight years we want to provide some level of consistency to the marketplace so that consumers and companies alike can enjoy the digital revolution.”


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