Ajit Pai: Friend Or Foe To Net Neutrality?

BY RACHEL DIMAURO, Staff Writer

Net neutrality has been a highly debated topic since the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) first introduced the neutrality rules back in 2015. The goal of the rules is to prevent Internet service providers from blocking, regulating, discriminating, or monitoring internet traffic—in short, it is to prevent any one person, or company from having complete control over the Internet, or to prevent a company from acting in a way that would place other companies at a disadvantage.

With the new Trump administration recently taking office, one of the concerns of Congress—and Democrats as a whole—is Trump’s pick of Ajit Pai for Chairman of the FCC. Pai, is said to have been a straight-A student in telecom law, and is a former Verizon lawyer.

Pai served as a minority Republican member for the past three years, before being elevated to the position of chairman by President Trump. He is said to be strong-minded on conservative interpretations of telecommunications law, and the limits of the FCC’s power. He stated that he is trying to clean the slate for a fresh new start, but many fear that that means he will advocate eliminating the rules entirely. Previous statements show that their speculations might be in vain. Pai was quoted saying, “Americans love the free and open Internet. We relish our freedom to speak, to post, to rally, to learn, to listen, to watch, and to connect online.”

So what does this mean? What is the future of net neutrality under the Trump administration? Since being in office for just a few weeks, he has already made efforts to alter what the former Obama administration had set in place. He started by withdrawing an effort to keep prison phone rates down—which isn’t a terrible idea, however, many argued that charging over a $1 per minute for phone time in prisons was a bit extreme. He nixed a proposal to break open the cable box market, as well as stopping nine companies from providing discounted high-speed Internet service to low income families. Pai released around a dozen actions of the previous administration.

The media has been a roller-coaster ride of opinions as to whether Pai will end up being a decant choice or an undesirable one. One day the sentiment is positive, and the next it’s negative. In a recent article written by Forbes, they stated, “. . . Other reporters suggest that, while he is not friendly to big government, he is a very pragmatic “lawyer of lawyers” who advocates free markets and competition.”

What can explain these bipolar views? Part of the problem is the complexity of the actual net neutrality rules. The 400-page Open Internet Order that was implemented in 2015 has two components. One is regarding net neutrality in its capacity of forbidding Internet and wireless providers from censoring content over competing networks. The other is to regulate the Internet as a public utility.

In the same article by Forbes, they said that, “Pai has shown a clear inclination against regulating broadband internet service as a utility, arguing potential government over-reach and over- regulation of internet and wireless providers like Comcast or AT&T. But that doesn’t mean that he is an enemy of a neutral internet.”

His statements have been used against him to conclude that he will abolish the net neutrality rules—even though the two are very different things.

To obtain a clear answer as to whether or not Pai will succeed in abolishing net neutrality, or bettering it, I fear at this moment is nigh on impossible. This early on, it is entirely true, that only time will tell.

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