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FCC Chairman Ajit Pai on Why He's Rejecting Net Neutrality Rules

"We were not living in a digital dystopia in the years leading up to 2015."

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.

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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.

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  • Juice||

    At least we get a few positive things here and there from the Trump administration. I doubt we'd be able to put our finger on anything positive about a Hillary Clinton administration. I guess you could say that she wouldn't push for a border wall, but that's about it.

  • Robbzilla||

    Hillary claimed that she would have descheduled pot. That's about the only positive I can come up with.

  • Zeb||

    OK. Wasn't Obama going to do that too?

  • Sevo||

    Yeah, but somehow in 8 years, he couldn't figure out how. He says.

  • Citizen X - #6||

    Was that before or after she said it should never happen because "there's too much money in it"?

  • ||

    completely fuckling up the internet is a good thing to you? the only people who support killing net neutrality are people to directly stand to profit form it, or people who do not understand what it means.

  • Pussy-Grabber@SPCA||

    Do you know what net neutrality means?

    Please provide detailed proof and examples.

    Also can you use the Terminal app on your Mac without using online cheat help? If not, you're a grasshopper pondering helicopters and I don't give two shits what you think about technology or technology policy.

  • Juice||

    Going forward, my hope is that in a more free market, light touch environment...

    It would be great to see more bureaucrats talking like this.

  • mickey456||

    baby steps. little tiny steps.

  • Half-Virtue, Half-Vice||

    Net Neutrality was over my head; but I like the cut of this guy's jib!

  • ThomasD||

    It wasn't over your head, it was half empty buzz word and half obfuscation. You were meant to be confused and 'trust' the 'good guys' public education has conditioned you to trust.

  • Rhywun||

    All I know is all the cool kids were for it.

  • Citizen X - #6||

    "Net Neutrality" was a spat between Netflix and Comcast whose propaganda theater got way out of hand, and siding with Netflix somehow became a moral imperative among people with a little bit of tech knowledge and not a lot of critical thinking skills.

  • Microaggressor||

    little bit of tech knowledge
    people who use the Internet but don't understand how either networks or markets function

  • Citizen X - #6||

    People who Fucking Love Science, mostly.

  • Sevo||

    People who are in love with free shit.

  • mickey456||

    its not that shallow.

    and they weren't really siding with netflix, not in the long run. net neutrality was stupid for netflix. they should be the cheapest shit there and more than that they will own it all.

  • Mickey Rat||

    You can understand "Net Neutrality" to mean "equal misery" as the goal. Which the advicates hated TMobile's plan described in the interview.

  • WakaWaka||

    Literally Hitler

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    How can you have free speech if speech isn't regulated?

  • NotAnotherSkippy||

    You should see the eurotards freak out over this guy. And since they are so integral to the history and rise of the internet, who are we to question our betters?

  • Uncle Jay||

    RE: FCC Chairman Ajit Pai on Why He's Rejecting Net Neutrality Rules

    This is terrible news.
    How can The State control information if there is no means of censorship?
    Did any one out there ever think of that?

  • Sevo||

    Turd isn't here to explain how 'neutrality' regulations make things more free?

    "Palin's Buttplug|4.25.17 @ 4:43PM|#
    Bullshit. Net neutrality INSURES free speech on the internet! No journalist was thrown in prison, etc"

  • mickey456||

    *did Gillespie just stopped by forever 21?*
    *stfu up this is important*
    Great interview.
    *Can Gillespie Just get a nice blue blazer and rock a black shit?*

  • Citizen X - #6||

    If he's rocking a black shit, he needs to go to the hospital and get checked for internal bleeding ASAP.

  • Glide||

    I got swayed by some of the pro-Net-Neutrality arguments early on in the movement when it was new to me. Internet service is a pretty crappy industry when it comes to anticompetitive practices. But the potential for monopolies that lead to those anticompetitive practices is partially due to government interference in the telecom industry. Heaping more regulations to deal with the fallout of existing bad regulations isn't the way to go, especially when most of the harm being done by monopolies is imaginary.

  • Scarecrow Repair & Chippering||

    It's been both annoying and amusing to watch Ars Technica and other so-called tech sites go bananas over the end of the net as we know it, ie, abandoning government-mandated Net Neutrality. If they wailed as much over the leaning Tower of Pisa, you'd think it would smother all of Italy when it fell.

  • hpearce||

    The easiest argument against Net Neutrality (internet communication neutrality) is that ut us based upon the right of the state to regulate and control communication.

    The first amendment supports oral communication, and printed communication and now communication bye expression.
    It really doesn't take much to see the general idea here is to protected our right to communication.

    State regulation and control of communication is an inherent violation of our 1st amendment rights to "speech" and "press".

    It also makes a great argument against the left that likes ot pretend it support concepts like freedom of the press. Net Neutrality was basically their idea.

  • ||

    yea you clearly do not understand the concept at all. Net Neutrality is not regulation. All it does is prevent horse fuckery by the companies that have monopolies over a public utility, There is no free market when it comes to Internet service providers , just not possible

  • Bobsoper||

    No "digital dystopia" before 2015, asserts Pai.
    In countries where there is real choice and competition, gigabit speed broadband costs around $35/month.

    How much are y'all paying for your 100GB (if you're lucky) comcast service? $70? $100? And if you don't like it, are you gonna switch to TimeWarnerCable? No, because the two companies have colluded to not operate in each other's markets.

    Title II is for consumer protection. Pai, a former lobbyist for Verizon, will once again feed at the trough of big telecom, once the revolving door spits him back into the private sector- THAT'S when he'll collect his reward for all the pro-monopoly crap he's doing to the FCC now.

  • colorblindkid||

    And how would Net Neutrality have addressed that? It's a different issue that needs to be addressed.

  • Sevo||

    "...No, because the two companies have colluded to not operate in each other's markets...."

    You mean the various governments have awarded local monopolies, don't you.
    And now. low-watt bulbs like you want the government to take even more control of the internet.

  • jelabarre||

    The sorry state of internet service (if you live outside the insular mega-cities most of these pundits live in, and maybe even inside them) is because *GOVERNMENT* decided to establish artificial monopolies by granting exclusive cable-operator licenses for communities. Cable service, from it's beginnings, always sucked because they didn't have to compete and make it better. This established what would become a government-established single supply on the infrastructure. Had these communities allowed multiple cable providers from the start, we could have decent competition to teh Crapcasts and Slime-Warners of today.

    So yes, government regulation put us in this hole, and more regulation is not going to do us any level of good.

  • gclancy51||

    Enjoy the death of internet equality, suckers. Time to watch corporate America lock down the internet forever. All in the name of freedom, of course.

  • Sevo||

    gclancy51|4.26.17 @ 8:01PM|#
    "Enjoy the death of internet equality, suckers. Time to watch corporate America lock down the internet forever.

    Enjoy your ignorance, gclancy. All in the name of lefty fantasies, sucker.

  • gclancy51||

    Not a lefty. Not a libertarian either. My lefty friends call me a conservative. In truth, I'm still searching. Though attracted to certain libertarian principles, the refusal to budge on ideology when confronted with nuanced issues such as this puts me right off.

    I admit the post was a little troll-y, though!

  • Sevo||

    gclancy51|4.26.17 @ 10:37PM|#
    "Not a lefty."

    But in love with regulation? Want to kill innovation by promoting price controls?
    'Nuanced issues', indeed.

  • gclancy51||

    If there's a very real possibility of collusion against the public, then...yes, perhaps.

    And of course you would think I'm a lefty - because I'm European. We're all leftys to you!

    Seriously though, from regularly reading this site I'm under the impression that libertarians believe that there has to be some kind of regulations, such as defense, immigration, infrastructure, but there are disagreements about the extent of them. Correct?

    Net neutrality is in the realm of infrastructure, is it not?

  • Sevo||

    "Seriously though, from regularly reading this site I'm under the impression that libertarians believe that there has to be some kind of regulations, such as defense, immigration, infrastructure, but there are disagreements about the extent of them. Correct?"

    If there is to be some regulation, you had better make the case very strongly.
    Everywhere and always, regulation stifles innovation and reduces the wealth of mankind, so your argument has to outweigh those considerations.
    ----------------------------------
    "Net neutrality is in the realm of infrastructure, is it not?"

    No, and even if it was, that's not an argument, it's a fig leaf.

  • Red Rocks Baiting n Inciting||

    Time to watch corporate America lock down the internet forever. All in the name of freedom, of course.

    And has been repeatedly pointed out here, a point which the bugmen continually miss, the only reason any internet monopolies exist at all is because they've been granted that privilege by the government. The Obama administration's actions didn't mitigate this one iota, but it sure did fool a lot of people who don't understand how data transport and network management works.

  • Sevo||

    "The Obama administration's actions didn't mitigate this one iota, but it sure did fool a lot of people"

    See, oh, "Affordable Health Care". The man was one lie after the other.

  • Foos Barbizal||

    Anti-net neutrality is anti-libertarian. You should think of the net as a newly discovered empty land and ISP's as something like the Dutch East India Co., et al. Monopolistic companies which administer the lands in much the same way a government would. The apps are businesses big and small which populate and actually improve this land this land, and currently enjoy little in the way of regulation from the ISP's. However, from the perspective of the apps almost anything the ISP's do that violates net neutrality is 'innovative' in the way a toll booth is innovative. And the edge cases where that's not true are better handled as just that unique cases, rather than the justification for blanket deregulation.

    As for innovation by the ISPs there's simply less room and possibility for growth. Technologically much faster internet already exists, visit South Korea. What's holding it back is a combination of factors. First is construction costs. Laying new cable is expensive, as Google found out. Ending net neutrality won't fix those costs. There's also anti-competitive behavior like rent seeking by ISPs. And aside from all that speeding up the internet won't have much noticeable benefit for users. You can already stream Netflix in real time. And when that slows down (such as when HBO can't handle the load when a new episode of Game of Thrones comes on) it's HBO's servers which are the problem not the net itself.

  • Sevo||

    Foos Barbizal|4.26.17 @ 8:59PM|#
    "Anti-net neutrality is anti-libertarian."

    Bull
    .
    .
    .
    shit.
    Pro-regulation is anti-libertarian.

  • gclancy51||

    This is what I meant. When nuance meets ideologues!

  • ||

    Gee. I wonder how much this has to do with Controlling the news coming from various independent, progressive sites, considering NO ONE's watching the BS from the corporate media? Many citizens have immediate access to news that provide actual transparency & are now getting involved. Sure there will always be nut jobs from Alex Jones & UFO's. However, there does appear to be a major shift as illustrated by the social movements/massive protest. This ass clown was once the corporate lawyer for Verizon. No bias there. Right.

  • Sevo||

    Did you have a point other than making a case for tin-foil hats?

  • DarrenM||

    Does this mean it will be harder to download porn?

  • Pussy-Grabber@SPCA||

    No. Preserves all pre-2015 porn download abilities.

    I'm generally bullish on Trump era porn. Obama era quality started to kinda dwindle. I blame that shrew wife, seemed like no fun at all. Who cares if the President of USA wanted to see a couple attractive unmarried guys get frisky? Well, Michelle Obama cared, that's who.

  • Jumper||

    I'm not a huge fan of net neutrality, but there isn't a viable alternative while the ISP's don't have to compete with each other. If I can shop ISP's then I will pick the one that doesn't throttle traffic or sell my data. Since I can't shop around, something needs to be in place. Remove net neutrality once the ISP's offer at least 2 broadband choices in most markets.

  • Jumper||

    The entire argument is a non-starter. He argues that Google and Facebook grew in an unregulated internet. Title II has no impact on that part of the internet apart from allowing startups to continue to be able to reach people. The regulations were completely aimed at the dumb pipe ISP's, which sorry, are utilities.

  • Sevo||

    Jumper|4.27.17 @ 4:27PM|#
    "... which sorry, are utilities."

    Which is both false and irrelevant.

  • Jumper||

    The entire argument is a non-starter. He argues that Google and Facebook grew in an unregulated internet. Title II has no impact on that part of the internet apart from allowing startups to continue to be able to reach people. The regulations were completely aimed at the dumb pipe ISP's, which sorry, are utilities.

  • ||

    The video was very informative for me. Ajit seemed very knowledgeable in both his job; and what he felt was not his job.

    His short lived presence as chairman seems, to me, promising.

    He gave me the impression that 'less regulation is good - I have enough work to do'.

    Also it seemed to me he wanted to unstitch current regulation in order to reduce federal oversight in areas that did not require it. I thought it informative his concerns regarding regulation by the States in the area.

    When it came to 'Universal Coverage' the answers provided to Gillepsie's (Heat of the Night) questions were appropriate and laudable. In essence the FCC endeavors to ensure internet connectivity nationwide.

    But Gillespie did not elicit Ajit's view on whether or not this should be funded by a new 'Universal Service Charge' for internet connectivity that will appear on our 'telecom' invoice in order to pay for internet service for welfare recipients along with their "Obamaphones"?

    I presume that Ajit's correct response would be that Congress determines new taxes; but it would have been nice to hear a Libertarian ask the question.

  • Wayde||

    As much as I'm in favor of free markets and Pai's talk of "gentle touch" governing sounded great... but when it comes to net neutrality there was a point at which I wanted to yell three words "Comcast, throttling, Netflix".

    When the content distributor holds an ISP monopoly in a particular region and also happens to be a content creator there is significant incentive to make life difficult for a cheeky startup (Netflix) that is using the Internet to compete with the likes of Comcast. I'm not sure where allegations of throttling stand presently but there were such allegations aplenty prior to the net neutrality regulations of the last administration.

    I believe measurable throttling of Netflix has been explained away by ISPs as a "peering ports" issue or some other reason why it just happens their biggest competitor has had traffic measurably nipped.

    Although, to be fair, Pai made a lot of good points. I appreciated the host Gillespie's Lily Tomlin operator ad reference, unexpected in the podcast-o-sphere. I'm happy to listen to an active Boomer podcaster that can make references to past pop-culture that is alien to the mostly Millenial-driven podcast universe.

    Thank you for another thought provoking episode
    Wayde

  • Sevo||

    Wayde|4.27.17 @ 8:37PM|#
    "As much as I'm in favor of free markets and Pai's talk of "gentle touch" governing sounded great... but when it comes to net neutrality there was a point at which I wanted to yell three words "Comcast, throttling, Netflix"."

    So government-granted monopolies are to be solved by more government regulation, and the hell with the long-term result?
    Here's a knife; you can really get even with your face by removing your nose.

  • Utilitarian||

    How close are we to eliminating government-granted telecom monopolies? Is that something that will happen in the next 6 months? 6 years? 6 decades?

    Let's face it, as much as we'd like telecom monopolies to disappear, they aren't going anywhere in the foreseeable future. Net Neutrality isn't the thing that will keep us from eliminating telecom monopolies. They'll continue to exist with or without Net Neutrality.

    In a world where I'm stuck with telecom monopolies, I prefer to have Net Neutrality. Then the moment we eliminate those monopolies, we eliminate Net Neutrality at the same time.

  • Pussy-Grabber@SPCA||

    You just want the right people to say that you have this buzz phrase called net neutrality.

    You can get internet for $30/month almost everywhere, read Wikileaks and Einstein, check the weather and beat yourself off to more porn that you could beat off to in 12 lifetimes. All while Google and Time Warner are in an economic death match, trying to win your business for all that nasty shit.

    Don't you think it's time for you to shut the fuck up about the internet? Whatever you're crying about with net neutrality, is without question, pure fucking bullshit.

  • Red Rocks Baiting n Inciting||

    I'm not sure where allegations of throttling stand presently but there were such allegations aplenty prior to the net neutrality regulations of the last administration.

    Again, people who complain about "throttling" show they don't understand how data transport works.

  • Pussy-Grabber@SPCA||

    It's wire w/electrical current or plastic w/blinking light or antennae/dish with radio waves, and just then a boring, shit ton of 0's and 1's.

    That's all there is to 'data transport', can you shut the fuck up about it already?

    Also fuck AT&T for throttling my connection speeds, and fuck you for reminding me that they do it.

  • Lester224||

    It sounds like Pai wants to wait until there are monopoly situations or free speech suppression to correct specific situations, and assume big corporations are good guys by default. The current rules say that if you pay for a high-speed connection, you get it no matter what site or content you are connected to. That's fine. It's not unreasonable to assume that large corporations will do what's in their best interest to make money and promote their own content by slowing down access to content that does not make them money if they can. It's not unreasonable to be wary of this result and leave regulation in place to prevent it. It's like saying "most companies won't pollute across state lines so we don't need regulation until there's a problem". You cannot assume that profit motives and freedom-of-speech motives will always align. Sometimes you are paranoid because they really are out to get you.

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