Net Neutrality: Other side of the story

Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Commissioner Ajit Pai testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee's Privacy, Technology and the Law Subcommittee hearing on "Examining the Proposed FCC Privacy Rules" on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, on May 11, 2016. / AFP / Nicholas Kamm (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)

In the week since the USA’s Federal Communications Commission released a plan to scrap existing rules for internet delivery, more than 200,000 phone calls organized through online campaigns, have been placed to Congress in protest. An additional 500,000 comments have been left on the agency’s website. On social media sites like Twitter and Reddit, the issue has been a leading topic of discussion.

Ajit Pai, Chairman of Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has been facing continuous criticism from various corners. The majority of public, including many celebrities like Hollywood singer Cher, actor Mark Ruffalo, Kumail Nanjiani and others have vehemently spoken out against the new regulations on net neutrality.

Ajit Pai defended his stance and proclaimed that opposition to his stance has been nothing but “clickbait” and “hot air” media in Washington. After the event, Pai tweeted individual responses to many celebrities including Kunal Nanjiani, who said, “We will never go back to a free internet,” the chairman went on a three-minute explanation on why he was wrong and how “light-touch regulation” was better than “heavy-handed micromanagement.” He repeated this process with at least four other outspoken figures including actors George Takei and Alyssa Milano.

Pai’s underpinning argument was that big technological companies like Google, Twitter, Facebook argue for net neutrality and want broadband providers to be regulated and not restrict them, but are unwilling to face those same non-discriminatory policies themselves.

Pai closed the speech by saying “So, when you get past all the wild accusations, fear mongering, hysteria; here’s the frankly boring bottom line: the plan to restore internet freedom would return to the light-touch, market-based approach under which the internet thrived.”

Despite all the visible outrage for the deregulation, The FCC has been receiving support from various technology experts and journalists. Ben Thompson, an independent tech and business analyst, sees the rollback of the 2015 regulations as a prudent move that will not harm the industry. He maintains that Title I rules have been effective in preventing “bad behaviour” of providers since 1994 when Internet Service Providers were first classified under those regulations.

Thompson also argues that there are costs to heavy regulation that more often than not exceed the provided benefits. “Any regulatory decision — indeed, any decision period — is about trade-offs,” he said. “To choose one course of action is to gain certain benefits and incur certain costs, and it is to forgo the benefits (and costs) of alternative courses of action. What makes evaluating regulations so difficult is that the benefits are usually readily apparent — the bad behaviour or outcome is, hopefully, eliminated — but the costs are much more difficult to quantify.”

There is currently a petition on the White House website calling for Mr Pai’s resignation. The appeal requires at least 100,000 signatures to be considered for redress. It has clocked 100,469 signatures so far.

The FCC will vote on the proposal on December 14. It is expected to pass ‘3-2’along party lines.

By Utsav Saxena with Agency inputs.