Ajit Pai: The Anti-Net Neutrality Crusader

Net Neutrality; Ajit Pai

I spent a good chunk of my day crawling Ajit Pai’s Twitter feed. Who is Ajit Pai? In short, he’s the Chairman for the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). At length? He’s the worst.

Yes, I know that sounds like an extremely biased thing to contend, but allow me to explain.

Pai is a 45-year old who was appointed to his position as FCC Chairman by President Trump. He was born in Buffalo, New York to Indian immigrants, he was raised in rural Kansas, he went to Harvard, he got a law degree from the University of Chicago, he married a doctor, he’s a Republican, and he’s always got a huge smile on his face. What else? He’s championing the repeal of Obama-era net neutrality regulations.

And people do not like him for it.

So, I went to his Twitter to see if he really was as vile as people made him out to be. He tweets frequently, mostly retweets, sometimes with commentary. Every once in a while, he’ll say something quirky or pop culture-y to show that he’s down with cool kids, like casually weighing in on the Yanny vs. Laurel debate.

That’s all well and good, but the comments he gets on his tweets are where it gets interesting. Or sad.

Common, notable ones are along the lines of, “No one likes you,” “You have no friends,” “Corporate stooge,” and “Ajit Pai sucks.” This overall tone is pretty consistent, with very little pro-Pai sentiment coming through.

People really don’t like this guy.

Naturally. People don’t like when you take things away from them or when you threaten something that they believe should be protected by the government. That’s exactly what Pai is hoping to do.

What is net neutrality?

In simplest terms, it means that the internet is treated as a utility rather than as a product. Basically, it’s become such a regular part of the American lifestyle that it’s deemed as necessary as electricity or water. So, while we have different internet providers, just like we have different electric companies, how much we pay for it is determined largely by how much of it we use and how easily we can access it. Internet providers do not have any say as to how we use the internet, just like the electric companies don’t charge us more or less depending on how we use our electricity. That’d be like paying more for using an electric stove with coil burners over an electric stove with a glass-top surface. Also, the internet is, more or less, the same across the board. It’s not notably faster or slower for certain customers depending on how much they’re paying, just as the lights don’t get brighter or dimmer based on your electricity plan.

Net neutrality was put in place as a precautionary measure against big business potentially taking advantage of consumers in the future. The Internet wasn’t a big, expensive disaster before net neutrality, but with it in place, we have assurances that it won’t become one.

In December of 2017 under the Trump administration, the FCC voted to repeal net neutrality in a 3-2 vote. Go figure, it was Republicans versus Democrats and they all voted along party lines. From there, the vote went to the Senate, who as of a few days ago, voted to keep it. All Democrats voted against the repeal, along with three Republicans who bravely switched sides.

Success!!

So why do the opponents of net neutrality want it repealed?

The main argument from the anti-net neutrality camp is that it’s just another form of government regulation. It’s yet another way that the government can police a commodity, preventing internet service providers from running their companies the way they best see fit.

And they’re not wrong. However, the way they’re selling it is a bit misleading. If the government isn’t the one “regulating” the internet (even though what they’re doing is effectively not regulating it), then that responsibility would fall to the corporations. That poses the obvious threat that the corporations would or could be financially incentivized to say, offer faster internet speeds to those who pay a premium, or who use one platform over another.

You see how this can get sticky. You see how this could potentially screw over the consumers, read: all of us.

When this concern is raised with Pai, he basically says yeah, it could happen, but it probably won’t.

The second argument that Pai likes to peddle is that companies won’t want to invest in broadband infrastructure with net neutrality in place, especially in rural areas like his home back in Kansas. He cites data that he says proves his point, asserting that investment has been down since net neutrality was instated in 2013, but the data is pretty controversial. If this is his main argument, it’s a weak one.

So, if Pai’s overall claim is that everything will proceed as is, why the push to repeal net neutrality?

Well, let’s revisit that “corporate stooge” assertion that keeps coming up in his Twitter comments. Ajit Pai used to work for Verizon as their Associate General Counsel, which some argue is a clear conflict of interest.

This gets complicated a bit further, though. Verizon has actually sued the FCC over net neutrality in the past. To say they have issues with all of this is an understatement. They’ve even released a highly problematic video (badly) explaining their stance on net neutrality, specifically why they’re opposed to it. The Verge did a pretty good breakdown of why the video is terrible.

So, while I can’t say conclusively that Pai is getting a payout from his crusade, lots of other people are claiming exactly that. Either way, it’s not a good look for him.

It comes down to big business versus the people. How can something that so many people are against be something that a few men or businesses can so easily take away from us, let alone non-elected officials? How can we expect him to work for us, with our interests in mind?

We can’t. So here we are again, fighting fights we wouldn’t have had to fight if people just left things alone. I know that’s a bad argument – after all, that’s not the way progress happens – but if it ain’t broke, then leave it the hell alone. More importantly, if the American people ain’t mad about it, leave.it.alone.

Anyway, the House votes on this next. In our Republican dominated government, there’s a good chance that even with the Senate victory, the House will vote to repeal net neutrality, unless we get a few Republican dissenters to vote against it. You know the drill – make some phone calls, write some letters, whichever way you feel. Do something, though. Never forget that you have a voice in this government, however big or small you might believe it to be. The fact of the matter is that all these senators and representatives care about is whether or not they believe their constituents will re-elect them in the midterms. That’s an awful lot of leverage you’ve got.

Or maybe this is a job for Eminem. He’s dealt with the FCC before.

What’s sad about all of this is that Pai seems like maybe he could have been a nice guy. I just wish he wasn’t the absolute worst.

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