Remember, back in 2014, when the internet went crazy over net neutrality? The FCC website received so many comments that it crashed. In the end, net neutrality regulations passed, and the internet breathed a sigh of relief. Well, it’s almost exactly two years later and, thanks to new FCC chairman Ajit Pai, the internet is starting to worry again.
Back when he was an FCC commissioner, Pai voted against net neutrality, and on Tuesday, during his speech at the Mobile World Congress, Pai confirmed that he sees rolling back the regulations as a priority. Calling them a ‘mistake’, he claimed they had led to a decline in broadband investment.
Net neutrality is the principle that all data on the internet should be treated equally. Supporters argue that, without its protections, internet service providers would restrict access to certain websites. From a consumer perspective, you could end up with a situation where you buy a basic package that allows you to access, say, YouTube but have to pay more if you want to access other sites. Smaller websites would be unable to compete, stifling innovation and free speech, and consumers would end up paying more for less.
But Pai sees the regulations as bad for telecommunication companies and, therefore, bad for consumers. He has argued that, without the fees companies could charge if net neutrality was reversed, they have less to invest in much-needed infrastructure. In his speech, he cited data from industry lobbyists USTelecom that showed a decline in infrastructure investment since net neutrality was passed.
However, public data from the major telecommunication companies themselves contradicts that, showing similar or increased capital investment since the regulations. It’s also worth noting that telecommunications companies are notorious for failing to deliver on infrastructure. Verizon, for instance, was given massive tax breaks by the governments of Pennsylvania and New York City in exchange for infrastructure that it failed to provide.
The internet will be holding its breath to see what Pai’s chairmanship brings. But one thing is for sure: it won’t let net neutrality go without a fight.