Ajit Pai Gloats As House Fails To Restore Net Neutrality
from the pendulum always swings back around dept
While a long shot, we’ve previously discussed how the outgoing House and Senate could have voted to reverse the FCC’s repeal of net neutrality using the Congressional Review Act (CRA). And while the Senate voted 52 to 47 to approve the move last May, efforts to get the 218 votes needed in the House had been stuck in neutral as House Representatives remained blindly loyal to their real constituents: AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast.
As a result the clock ran out, and that route for restoration of the rules has died a whimpering demise. As is his tendency, FCC boss Ajit Pai couldn’t just savor the “win.” He felt compelled to issue a public statement (pdf) in which he not only gloats over the failure, but packs a large number of false statements into a relatively short paragraph:
“I’m pleased that a strong bipartisan majority of the U.S. House of Representatives declined to reinstate heavy-handed Internet regulation. They did the right thing—especially considering the positive results for American consumers since the adoption of the Restoring Internet Freedom Order. Over the past year, the Internet has remained free and open. Broadband speeds are up, with download speeds in the United States increasing more than 35% in 2018, according to a recent report from Ookla. Internet access is also expanding, and the digital divide is closing. For example, a recent report by the Fiber Broadband Association found that fiber was made available to more new homes in 2018 than in any previous year. In short, the FCC’s light-touch approach is working. In 2019, we’ll continue to pursue our forward-looking agenda to bring digital opportunity to all Americans.”
One, the FCC’s 2015 net neutrality rules weren’t “heavy handed.” By international standards (Japan, Canada, The Netherlands) they were relatively weak, and were, in reality, pretty much the very least the US government could do to try and rein in natural telecom monopolies in the absence of real competition. Two, while Pai applauds a “strong bipartisan majority” in the House, that majority actively ignored the bipartisan majority of their constituents who support net neutrality and wanted the rules left intact in the first place.
Pai also felt oddly compelled to take credit for fairly marginal speed increases he had little to do with. Broadband speeds being up 35% has more to do with natural evolution (largely relatively cheap DOCSIS 3.1 upgrades on cable networks) than anything else. And at least a healthy portion of that speed increase is thanks to community fiber networks Pai actively opposes. Claiming any of this had anything to do with net neutrality is patently false.
Of course there’s plenty of realities Pai would rather not talk about. Like that time Verizon throttled the mobile connections of California firefighters (while they were fighting a wildfire) and Pai did nothing. Or when CenturyLink blocked user internet access until users clicked on an ad, and the FCC said absolutely nothing. Or last week when AT&T quietly began violating net neutrality by only applying broadband usage limits if you use a competitor’s streaming service. Not a word from the FCC about any of it, despite ample claims that the perils of non-neutrality are utterly hallucinated.
Nor does Pai much want to talk about the fact that as US telcos refuse to upgrade aging DSL lines, it’s letting cable giants like Spectrum and Comcast nab a greater monopoly over fixed-line broadband, resulting in some of the highest prices for broadband in the developed world. Or how anybody with an IQ over 70 can see natural monopolies and media conglomerates like AT&T and Comcast hope to use their massive size and leverage to tilt the playing field and harm smaller streaming competitors in the online video wars to come.
Granted, restoring net neutrality via the CRA was always a long shot. Even if net neutrality advocates had managed to nab the needed House votes, the proposal would have needed to avoid a Trump veto. Still, consumer group efforts to get lawmakers to clearly demonstrate their position on this issue (you can find a breakdown here) served two valuable purposes: it helped illustrate which politicians clearly have no regard for their constituents (who, again, overwhelmingly oppose what Pai’s been up to), while also applying pressure for the inevitable legislative battles to come.
That said, it’s pretty telling that Pai couldn’t just quietly enjoy the policy “win” here. Like the man who appointed him, he felt compelled to troll his opponents, gloat over a victory he had little to do with, and issue a statement packed with numerous falsehoods and distortions in the belief that that now passes for leadership. Unfortunately for Pai, the real battle is only just beginning thanks to next month’s looming net neutrality court fight, where his agency’s historically-bizarre behaviors (from making up a DDOS attack to turning a blind eye to identity theft and fraud) won’t be left quite so open to “creative” interpretation.