New FCC Chair Plots Net Neutrality's Death: Can He Really Kill It?


President Donald Trump has maintained a single-minded desire to undo a number of policies put in place by the Obama administration in the name of free market and deregulation. Ajit Pai, his recently installed point man at the Federal Communications Commission, is only too happy to prove himself, promising to abolish net neutrality the first chance he gets.

Reports now indicate Pai is hunkered in his office plotting ways to execute the death blow to net neutrality. This is because, unlike his boss, the newly appointed FCC chairman cannot merely sign an executive order and shove it under everyone's noses expecting it to be obeyed.

Administrative Roadblock To Net Neutrality Reversal

The reversal of the net neutrality rule had to go through an administrative process. It must be voted on and had to undergo scrutiny at several levels: within the FCC body, the policy network, and even the public realm.

This is the reason why Pai needs a strategy and so far he seems to be treading carefully, hatching potential plots and keeping all his proverbial cards close.

In the first few days in office as chairman, Pai borrowed a page from Trump's book. He dumped several policies and initiatives all at once, aiming for a blitzkrieg.

However, the setbacks from different sectors sustained by Trump's EO mandating an immigration ban must have been an eye-opener for Pai. At this point, it seems that his quest to demolish net neutrality through brute force seems no longer as viable at this point.

On Stopping Pai

One should note that even some Republicans are committed to opposing the abolition of net neutrality. For example, Sen. John Thune wants to enact a law that will uphold it. You may be sure that Democrats will also fight any attempt to overturn current regulations. This area is being referred to as a legislative solution to the issue of net neutrality.

Public outcry seems to be exerting some pressure as well. The amount of press attention and criticism, for instance, has forced Pai to explain himself in writing why he chose to stop nine ISPs from providing subsidized internet through the Lifeline program to low income households.

Now, are all these enough to stop Pai from restructuring the net neutrality rule?

There is no simple answer to this question.

In theory, Pai can overturn net neutrality because he will have the support of the majority of the FCC commissioners. All five commissioners often vote along party lines so Pai will clearly enjoy an advantage with Republicans now constituting the majority.

Consumers, therefore, have a big role to play in putting pressure on the FCC and their representatives in Capitol Hill. If no one raises a ruckus, Pai will be free to ensure that telecom companies can discriminate who gets faster internet so they can make extra money. The FCC chairman will be free to let ISPs manipulate internet content so that paid information are those that will reach the public first.

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