Net neutrality is one of those issues that might start a bar-room brawl in Washington, D.C., but it's not something that gets the blood boiling in most precincts of the country. Nevertheless, it and related measures handled by the Federal Communications Commission are pocketbook issues that aren't far behind the price of gas and mortgage rates for American families.
The Obama Administration's FCC has taken an activist stance on Internet matters, choosing to apply regulations to what had for most of its life been a Wild West sort of place, where just about anyone could do just about anything.
Most notably, and most controversially, the FCC in March 2015 voted 3-2 to declare that broadband service was a utility and could therefore be regulated. It imposed rules designed to prohibit carriers from treating some traffic differently from others.
One of the dissenting votes came from commissioner Ajit Pai, a Republican who is generally considered to be the leading candidate to head the commission when the Trump Administration rolls into town. Pai has opposed much of what the FCC has done under current chairman Tom Wheeler, a Democrat.
Though a Republican, Pai was nominated to the FCC by President Obama in 2011. A Harvard Law graduate, he is the son of immigrants from India and grew up in Parsons, Kansas.
"Days are numbered"
He is particularly dismissive of the net neutrality regulations and in a speech last week said the rule's "days are numbered."
"I’m hopeful that beginning next year, our general regulatory approach will be a more sober one that is guided by evidence, sound economic analysis, and a good dose of humility," Pai said in his speech to a Free State Foundation luncheon, arguing that the net neutrality rules were adopted without any evidence that they were needed.
"There was no evidence of systemic failure in the Internet marketplace. As I said at the time, 'One could read the entire document . . . without finding anything more than hypothesized harms.' Or, in other words, public-utility regulation was a solution that wouldn’t work for a problem that didn’t exist."
Besides net neutrality, Pai is thought to be unsympathetic to plans to break cable systems' monopoly on set-top boxes and to outlaw local regulations banning municipal broadband networks.
Pai singled out the set-top box proposal, which he said was being formulated in the dark.
"Right now, the FCC provides information selectively to favored insiders. To give one example, if you are in the good graces of the FCC’s leadership, you can receive detailed information about the set-top box proposal. But if you aren’t, you’re left in the dark," he said.