Amid growing outrage over his plan to dismantle network neutrality rules, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai went into full attack mode against Apple, Twitter, and YouTube in a new op-ed in the Washington Times today.
The thrust of the op-ed is that big internet companies are hypocrites because they want regulations that demand big ISPs treat all content equally—even though they don’t practice what they preach on their own websites.
“If these companies are truly committed to an open internet where Americans can freely access the content of their choice, like I am, it’s curious that they focus on unnecessary and harmful regulation of other parts of the internet ecosystem with little history of engaging in this kind of behavior,” Pai writes.
He calls out Twitter for disallowing pro-life messages on GOP Representative Marsh Blackburn’s campaign video. In the ad, Blackburn states, “I fought Planned Parenthood and we stopped the sale of baby body parts,” which Twitter immediately flagged as “inflammatory.” Twitter eventually relented and ran the ad.
Pai also scolds YouTube for removing videos from African American Trump supporters “Diamond and Silk” and a video posted by far-right commentator Dennis Prager. The latter featured an Alan Dershowitz lecture titled “Israel’s Legal Founding.” Prager sued YouTube over the removal.
Pai then seizes on Apple CEO Tim Cook’s recent participation in an internet summit in China:
“That gathering promotes China’s vision of government censorship of the internet. What did he say there? Among other things: ‘We are proud to have worked alongside many of our partners in China to help build a community that will join a common future in cyberspace.’ That is code for a censored internet. And it should alarm anyone who believes in internet freedom.”
Cook defended his participation in the summit by saying: “From my American mind-set, I believe strongly in freedoms . . . but I also know that every country in the world decides their laws and regulations.”
There may be some truth in Pai’s statements. Apple’s unwillingness to act on China’s tradition of censorship certainly serves its bottom line, even though it’s inconsistent with its own position on free speech and openness.
But Pai is now openly attacking the companies that comprise the biggest part of the internet economy–the content providers. The op-ed is clearly an attempt to beat back some of the growing fury over Pai’s naked ambition to make life much easier for big ISPs (mainly Verizon, AT&T, Comcast, and Charter). The removal of the network neutrality rules in the 2015 Open Internet Order may open the doors for ISPs to sell internet “fast lanes” to big internet companies–at the expense of startups that may not be able to afford it. It might also help the ISPs gain leverage in their long-time aspiration to sell their own services and content, not just deliver the the content of others.
Pai’s statements in the op-ed also show how a once bi-partisan FCC has become highly politicized. The op-ed reads like it was written by the younger Ajit Pai, who worked for Verizon as a lawyer and lobbyist. It’s very hard to imagine Republican chairmen of the past, like Michael Powell and Kevin Martin, speaking in this way.
The FCC is scheduled to vote on Pai’s proposal on December 14. It’s very likely the commission will vote along party lines to approve the plan.