How Silicon Valley became the scapegoat of the FCC chair


In a speech last week on open internet regulations, Ajit Pai stoked anti-technology sentiment.


The debate on the regulation of the internet has been constantly transformed in recent years, from an insular struggle between telecommunications experts to a political party with standard shouts. The process seemed to completely subside last week, beginning when the president of the Federal Communications Commission, Ajit Pai, published his plan to reverse the Obama-era open rules on November 22, the day before Thanksgiving.

Ajit Pai

Photographer: Andrew Harrer / Bloomberg

The proposal was a logical candidate for a pre-holiday news dump. Over the past three years, significant public support for net neutrality has been achieved, the principle that Internet providers should not give preferential treatment to certain websites and services. If Internet providers have this power, they argue, they could stifle views they do not like or services that compete with theirs. The energy to avoid this comes almost entirely from the Democratic side, and resulted in the strongest net neutrality protections in history in the form of the 2015 open Internet rules. Most Republicans thought the rules were unnecessary , and they hated that the FCC claimed greater regulatory power over companies like Comcast Corp. and AT & T Inc. in their implementation.

For some reason, restoring the lost power of large telecommunications companies has not ignited a fire in the right-wing base circles, a point that Pai's political allies have been privately acknowledging for months. Then the FCC chair came back from Thanksgiving looking to create a spark. In a speech on Tuesday, Pai angrily denounced celebrities and technology companies that have criticized his plans to undo the 2015 rules. Hollywood is always a good scapegoat, of course, and Republicans seeking to arouse anger in 2017 do well in frame their problems as a response to the unbridled power of Silicon Valley.

According to Pai, large technology platforms are the real threat to freedom of expression and open competition on the Internet, and granting them additional leverage is a mistake. "They can hide their defense in the interest of the public, but the real interest of these internet giants is to use the regulatory process to cement their dominance in the Internet economy," he said on Tuesday. The next day, he continued to criticize Twitter for blocking messages and canceling conservative accounts. "When it comes to an open internet, Twitter is part of the problem," he said.

This is not a new tactic for Pai. "He had the same complaints about us being complicit" for Internet companies, said Tom Wheeler, the president of the FCC that ushered in the 2015 rules. The anger towards right-wing technology has only grown since then. "I have spoken with Republican offices and see many of these problems through the lens of investment recovery for technology companies," said Brent Skorup, a researcher at the Mercatus Center, a research organization at George Mason University with a market free. bent. Support Pai's approach

One irony for Silicon Valley's scapegoat is that people on both sides of the debate say that the largest Internet companies have been less than fully engaged in the net neutrality debate. It has been a point of constant grunting on the part of the most enthusiastic advocates of net neutrality. If Comcast started to charge web services for faster internet speeds, Facebook Inc. and Google of Alphabet Inc. would have no problem paying tolls. Smaller companies could, however, leave them at an additional competitive disadvantage. There is a school of thought favorable to the neutrality of the network that the rules are necessary to prevent the Internet giants from gaining an even greater advantage over the smaller companies.

A perfectly consistent philosophy for Internet regulation would be to support net neutrality to reign in monopolistic Internet providers while also supporting new rules that would reign in monopolistic technology companies. In fact, this is the position highlighted by one of the Democratic lawmakers who has been most active in technology in recent years, Minnesota Senator Al Franken. "As technology giants become a new type of Internet access controller, I think the same basic principles of net neutrality should apply here: no company should have the power to choose what content reaches consumers and which is not, "he said. a speech to the Open Markets Institute, a research and advocacy group focused on antitrust issues, last month. (The chances of Franken playing a leadership role have clearly diminished in recent weeks, obviously, but the framework could be there for someone else to choose)

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