Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai announced plans today to roll back net neutrality rules put in place by the Obama administration in 2015.
The FCC currently regulates Internet service providers (ISPs) under Title II regulations that essentially treat the internet as a public utility similar to the old phone monopoly. Proponents of net neutrality and the invocation of Title II regulations say that such oversight is necessary to ensure that the Internet remains "open" and ISPs don't block sites or degrade offerings by rivals. Long a critic of Title II regulations, which were invoked after the FCC lost two court battles to regulate the Internet, Pai describes them as "a panoply of heavy-handed economic regulations that were developed in the Great Depression to handle Ma Bell."
Scrapping these rules, Pai told Reason's Nick Gillespie, won't harm consumers or the public interest because there was no reason for them in the first place. The rationales were mere "phantoms that were conjured up by people who wanted the FCC for political reasons to overregulate the internet," Pai told Gillespie. "We were not living in a digital dystopia in the years leading up to 2015."
If left in place, however, the Title II rules could harm the commercial internet, which Pai described as "one of the most incredible free market innovations in history."
"Companies like Google and Facebook and Netflix became household names precisely because we didn't have the government micromanaging how the internet would operate," said Pai, who noted that the Clinton-era decision not to regulate the Internet like a phone utility or a broadcast network was one of the most important factors in the rise of our new economy.
Pai also pushed back against claims that he's a right-wing radical who's "fucking things up."
"[I ascribe to] the very radical, right-wing position that the Clinton administration basically got it right when it came to digital infrastructure."
During the interview, Pai also shared his views on topics including privacy, Donald Trump, obscenity, universal service, and more.
Edited by Mark McDaniel. Cameras by McDaniel and Meredith Bragg. Music by Revolution Void.
This is a rush transcript—check all quotes against the audio for accuracy.
Nick Gillespie: Hi I'm Nick Gillespie with Reason and today we are talking with Ajit Pai. He's the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, the FCC, which oversees the licensing of radio and television stations, creates ownership roles for certain types of media companies, polices broadcast radio and television for indecency, and over the past few years has tried to enforce controversial rules that will maintain a free and open internet, sometimes called net neutrality. Ajit, thanks for talking to us.
Ajit Pai: Nick, great to be with you again.
Nick Gillespie: You are repealing Title II rules, explain what that will do and what you hope to accomplish with that.
Ajit Pai: Well, as you pointed out, Title II involves the panoply of heavy-handed economic regulations that were developed in the Great Depression to handle Ma Bell, the telephone monopoly of the 1930s. My previous colleagues imposed those rules on the internet, one of the most dynamic systems we've ever known. Earlier I proposed to my fellow commissioners at the FCC to repeal those Title II regulations. Going forward, my hope is that in a more free market, light touch environment, we can figure out what the right regulatory framework is to preserve those core protections of a free and open internet that have existed prior to 2015 when on a party-line vote, the FCC adopted these net neutrality regulations.