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Net Loss: Why One FCC Commissioner Hates His Job




What you are about to read is about the FCC and “net neutrality.” But not really.

As you probably know, the Federal Communications Commission is in the process of revising its rules and regulations for the Internet. It’s tried twice before and both times the telecommunications industry has (successfully) gone to court to get the rules tossed out.

One of the hottest topics is net neutrality – the idea that your Internet service provider has to treat equally whatever content is flowing through its tubes. This is important, because without net neutrality your ISP could strike separate deals with different content providers, allowing, say, Hulu to flow freely, but letting Netflix drip through at a slower pace. Or loading the Drudge Report quickly, but throttling Left Business Observer.

A secondary effect of ending net neutrality concerns what you pay to Time Warner (or AT&T or Verizon or Comcast) — without net neutrality your costs will go up. If content providers are paying ISPs to access the Internet’s fast lane, who’s going to absorb that cost? Netflix will have to charge you another couple of bucks a month.

The FCC seems poised to get rid of net neutrality, having tentatively voted to do so last week. But it is still considering the matter and has asked the public to weigh in on its decision. The commissioners are also asking the public to weigh in on whether the Internet is a utility and if the FCC should regulate it as such. (It is and they should.)

The FCC is governed by a five-member board of commissioners, appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate. Traditionally, three seats are held by the president’s party and two from the other party. The FCC therefore voted 3-2 (as it often does) to proceed with this historic rulemaking process.

But, as I said, this is not a story about the FCC or net neutrality.

FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai

FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai

After the vote, FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai — a Republican confirmed to his position in 2012 and one of the two minority votes — railed against the possibility of the Internet being regulated, saying “Every American who cares about the future of the Internet should be wary about five unelected officials deciding its fate.”

In case it’s not clear, that is exactly the FCC’s job. And Pai seems to think he’s not capable of doing it.

It is probably worth mentioning that before his appointment as FCC Commissioner, Pai was an FCC staffer for many years, as well as a partner specializing in communications law at a high-powered D.C. law firm. He has also worked at the Department of Justice on telecommunications issues and has private sector experience as well (with Verizon). And he graduated with honors from Harvard before becoming an editor of the University of Chicago Law Review.

So if Pai isn’t capable of being one of five voices making these decisions, I don’t know who is. And neither does Pai. With a comment like his, he is essentially saying, “I don’t trust me to do my job and you shouldn’t either.” Actually, he’s going further and saying, “The way we set up our system of government is stupid and my job shouldn’t exist.” Makes you wonder why he applied.

Which brings us to comedian (and union organizer) Nato Green, who has summed up the maddening nature of this position:

“The right . . . they hate the government. You hear that a lot: ‘We need less government. We need to get the government out of people’s lives.’ But for people who spend all their time talking about how much they hate the government, they put a lot of energy into being involved with the government. And that is not a sign of mental health – to devote your life to the things that you hate . . . I don’t like camping, but you don’t find me at REI shouting at people.”

A cynic might speculate that Pai was being disingenuous. I prefer to think he just has extraordinarily high standards.

Network Neutrality logo: Camilo Sanchez/Wikimedia

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