Net Neutrality

Critics Not Pai-Eyed About New FCC Chair

While the congratulations are still pouring in for newly anointed FCC Chairman Ajit Pai from Washington telecom and cable trade groups and Republican lawmakers, not everyone is singing his praises.

Indeed, as might be expected, consumer groups, Silicon Valley tech firms, Democratic lawmakers and other critics are already ringing loud alarm bells about the drastically deregulatory direction that Commissioner Pai is expected to take the now Republican-led Commission. In particular, they are worried that Pai will move quickly to roll back the landmark Open Internet Order pushed through by former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler that established net neutrality as the law of the land in the US nearly two years ago. (See Is Pai Filling FCC Role? )

Take Gary Griffiths, CEO at iPass Inc. (Nasdaq: IPAS), a Bay Area company that boasts a WiFi network of 57 million hotspots. In a blistering email about Pai's elevation to the FCC chair by President Donald Trump, Griffiths said the move indicates that Trump plans to follow through on his campaign promises to trash the Open Internet Order, eliminate restrictions on ISP behavior and strip the Commission of at least some of its consumer privacy authority.

"If there were any doubt, Pai's appointment proves net neutrality is firmly in Trump’s crosshairs," Griffiths wrote. "Sadly, one of Trump’s first actions upon entering the Oval Office looks to be the gutting of these policies."

Sarah Morris, director of open Internet policy for New America's Open Technology Institute, also took some potshots at Pai. Contending that the new FCC chairman "has been a steadfast opponent of net neutrality and consumer privacy rules and a rubber stamp for mega-mergers" during his four years on the Commission, she charged that his "anti-regulatory agenda is a gift to telecom lobbyists and a major threat to consumers, small businesses and the American economy." She urged the FCC to "remain true to its public interest mandate and resist efforts to roll back vital consumer protections like the Open Internet Order."

Consumer groups are chiming in with their concerns too, although they are hoping their worst fears won't be realized.

For instance, Gene Kimmelman, president of Public Knowledge , asserted in a statement that "Pai has a history of attacking consumer protections, from the Open Internet order to our right to privacy online." But, he noted, "every Commissioner who has been elevated to Chairman discovers the job is very different from what he or she thought it would be. Most quickly discover that getting things done while running an agency sometimes requires a different set of skills, as well as a willingness to compromise."

“With this in mind," Kimmelman said, "we urge Chairman Pai to preserve consumer protections and to focus on driving down prices and expanding choices for all essential communications services while preserving the Commission's recent pro-competitive and consumer protection rules and actions."

Other critics went even further. In a series of tweets earlier today, Karl Bode of DSL Reports wrote that Pai "opposes EVERYTHING," including holding ISPs accountable for fraud. He noted that the new FCC chief "even voted down efforts to punish AT&T for making bills harder to understand to help crammers rip off consumers. Think about that."

Former FCC Chairman Michael Copps, a Democratic appointee who's now an advisor to Common Cause, offered some unsolicited advice for Pai, encouraging him to "take the Commission outside of Washington" so that the Commissioners "can meet with and hear from the people who live with the policies they make." Copps said he's "totally convinced the majority of Americans, including many who voted for the new president, strongly favor an open internet and a media ecosystem that is up to the task of informing democracy.”

The National Hispanic Media Coalition offered some advice for Pai as well, urging him to "be truly open to the diverse viewpoints of all stakeholders as he leads his agency in service of the people of this country and the public interest." In its statement, the group noted that Pai’s views "have often diverged from those of NHMC and other groups representing the voices of communities of color and vulnerable populations on a number of key telecommunications issues -- namely the importance of preserving the open internet, support for critical programs striving for universal access to broadband like Lifeline and E-Rate, the impact of increasing consolidation on the media and telecommunications industries, and the ongoing fight for prison phone justice."

Finally, two key Democratic congressmen immediately sent a letter to Pai seeking several commitments from the new FCC chairman. In their joint letter, Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), ranking member of the House Energy & Commerce Committee, and Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Pa.), ranking member of the Communications Subcommittee, urged Pai to: "brief relevant Committee leadership -- no matter their party -- on all major decisions before the Commission acts;" be "responsive to all Congressional inquiries;" work with "your colleagues in a bi-partisan fashion to reach consensus before moving ahead with major policy decisions;" and "not take any effort to retaliate against, undermine, demote or marginalize civil servants on the basis of their analysis or their work under previous Commission leadership."

— Alan Breznick, Cable/Video Practice Leader, Light Reading

COMMENTS Add Comment
Joe Stanganelli 1/25/2017 | 6:53:10 PM
Re: Unsurprising It also depends which talking heads you listen to.

The echo chamber, of course, has been demonizing anybody and everybody even remotely connected with catchy BuzzFeed-style headlines.

(Jeff Sessions comes to mind re: both sides of the coin here.)
Joe Stanganelli 1/25/2017 | 6:50:27 PM
Re: Unsurprising @Alan: I think those on the other side of the aisle are simply already so fervently fired up about any and all things Trump Administration that Pai is being attacked far more than if another Republican President had given him this appointment.

Of course, Net Neutrality is also one of those issues where the people on one particular side are very loud indeed.
chuckj 1/24/2017 | 7:44:19 PM
FANG's free store is history Looking forward that the pay their fair share to keep their store fronts open...
brooks7 1/24/2017 | 6:22:43 PM
Re: Unsurprising Alan,

I haven't really paid attention to any of them and am basically without opinion.  It is hard (after a time) to assume they are all bad.  I never expect the opposition to have much good to say about the other side anymore.  That has gone by the wayside, where we could have a Tip O'Neil and Ronald Reagan working together to get legislation through.  Now we have demagogues setting the tone and people listen to their own news echo chambers.  

Where that leaves me is with no news organization that I can listen to.  At that point, I have to wait for actions.  I have disagreement with some of the early executive orders (I am for TPP) and agreement with others (the Pipelines being built).  I don't expect to agree with everything that every President or Cabinet Member does.


alanbreznick 1/24/2017 | 5:32:56 PM
Re: Unsurprising True, Seven. And I suspect there's a pretty good reason for that. Which ones do you think deserve praise from the talking heads? 
brooks7 1/24/2017 | 5:29:03 PM
Re: Unsurprising Alan,

They pretty much have not been this Presidential cycle.  I can't think of a single new cabinet nominee that got praise from the talking heads.


alanbreznick 1/24/2017 | 4:55:46 PM
Re: Just to Clarify... Arms dealer to both sides, eh? Nice business model, Gary. Sorry if I misinterreted your quote. It sue sounded like you were a net neutrality advocate and didn't like PAi's or Trump's posiytion on it. 
alanbreznick 1/24/2017 | 4:53:08 PM
Re: Unsurprising Yep, Joe. You're right. Hardly surprising at all. But it's notable that so many folks started criticizing Pai's choice right away. Usually, everyone, including critics, are gushier at first. 
iPassOne 1/24/2017 | 4:36:20 PM
Just to Clarify... Alan, thanks for the story; I appreciate the quote attributed to me.  But just to set the record straight, I was never a fan of net neutrality, and I'm delighted in the prospect of its repeal.  But that's a personal position.  More importantly, from a business perspective, iPass has customers and partners on both sides of the net neutrailty divide.  So whether it stays intact or is repealed, we don't expect to see an impact to our business.  Some will benefit, others will be disadvantged, and iPass continues to play on a level field - but with over 200 global WiFi network provider partners, we remain the Switzerland of Internet connectivity.  

Thanks again -

Gary Griffiths

CEO, iPass
Joe Stanganelli 1/24/2017 | 3:43:57 PM
Unsurprising As upset as some critics may be, Pai's appointment, FWIW, is hardly surprising.  Pai is a renowned free-market deregulationist -- and is much higher profile than fellow FCC Republican O'Rielly.  Trump's entire platform hinges on deregulation (at least from an intranational perspective).
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