February 10, 2017
Trump’s FCC pick wastes no time in his plan to ruin the internet
As appointments associated with President Trump begin to make their mark on public life, it was almost inevitable that the FCC would be no different. During his first two weeks at its helm, Ajit Pai has done what most expected, and many feared, he would do.
A former Verizon lawyer, Pai is a stated opponent of net neutrality. Not long before taking over at the FCC, he said that "We need to fire up the weed whacker and remove those rules that are holding back investment, innovation, and job creation."This, of course, was music to the telecommunication industry's ears.
Beginning to undermine net neutrality (the principle that all data be treated equally) right off the bat, he declared on January 27th that he was "pleased to announce that I have circulated to my colleagues an order that would waive for five years the enhanced transparency reporting requirements for small businesses with no more than 250,000 subscribers."
There also appears to be no chance of Pai favoring local competition in helping cities or states to offer their own high-speed internet services, known as municipal broadband, and it seems he will instead to defer to the private sector.
Revoking Lifeline licenses
Also potentially for the chop (before it even started) is AllVid, which would have required cable companies to offer apps for third-party smart TV devices, excusing consumers from the obligation to rent a cable box from their provider and opening the possibility to use Roku, Chromecast, Apple, or Fire TV in its place.
Under Pai's predecessor, Tom Wheeler, the FCC was at loggerheads with AT&T and Verizon, arguing that the internet as a free marketplace was threatened by their DirecTV Now and Go90 services respectively. Both were marked as "zero-rated" services, meaning they don't count against a consumer's mobile data cap.
Pai, however, has canceled the FCC's investigation into zero rating, claiming that free data plans are "popular with consumers" and have "enhanced competition in the wireless marketplace."
He added that the FCC would "not focus on denying Americans free data," but rather would "concentrate on expanding broadband deployment."
All of the issues mentioned above are subject to opinion and debate, of course. But Pai gave opponents a brush with which to paint him as a villain when he revoked the licenses of nine companies Wheeler had approved under the Lifeline program. The program aimed to get some of the poorest people in the US online, and one of the licenses revoked was that of a company offering educational broadband to children in 41 states.
Pai's reason for holding back on the licenses was that the move was required to prevent fraud.
Image credit: Bloomberg