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NRI Ideas Summit

FCC Chairman: Net-Neutrality Supporters Saw ‘Political Advantage’ in Stirring ‘Fear’

National Review’s Charles C.W. Cooke and FCC chairman Ajit Pai (Pete Marovich)

Federal Communications Commission chairman Ajit Pai said Friday that some advocates of net neutrality saw a political advantage in fomenting fear about the policy’s end.

Pai joined Charles Cooke of National Review at the National Review Institute’s 2019 Ideas Summit to discuss how the agency’s role has changed from its founding in the 1930s to today.

“Net neutrality” is a “very seductive marketing slogan,” Pai said. But “ultimately what it means is government regulation of the Internet.”

“As to the question of why people are upset, I’ll be candid. I think it’s because a lot of people saw a political advantage in fomenting a lot of fear,” he continued, recalling the doom-and-gloom warnings of critics who warned that Pai’s rollback of Obama-era net-neutrality regulations would be the “end of the Internet as we know it.”

“Last time I checked, you can still hate-tweet your favorite FCC chairman,” he quipped.

The FCC’s repeal of the Obama-ear Open Internet Order net-neutrality rules took effect in April of last year. It was originally introduced by Pai, and passed by a vote of the FCC in December 2017.

Net neutrality imposed heavy regulations on Internet-service providers, classifying them as public utilities. Critics said that the rules choked companies such as popular streaming services by regulating how they presented content to consumers. Those pushing for the rules argued that control of the Internet should not be left to the whims of private companies.

The Internet is the “greatest free-market innovation in history,” and from 1996 to 2015 the FCC took a “light-touch, market-based approach” to regulating it, Pai said. “And look what happened. We saw small, scrappy startups become global giants like Facebook and Amazon and Netflix and Google. It’s incredible how much innovation we’ve seen over the past 20 years.”

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