It's a question worth asking: Why is the FCC boss being such a jerk?

The answer – because net-neutrality slayer Ajit Pai wants to stay in charge

Special report This week, Ajit Pai, chairman of America's broadband watchdog, decided to reignite the contentious debate over net neutrality – by proposing scrapping the country's open internet safeguards.

The move was not unexpected. But what was surprising was how FCC chair Pai decided to relay it: rather than outline the logical policy reasons for why such a big change was necessary, he instead embarked on a fact-free, frequently misleading and highly partisan speech that bordered on a rant, even going so far as to mock and dismiss anyone who opposed his idea.

Interest in the decision was significant but rather than talk to any number of telecom policy experts or reporters about the topic, Pai instead decided to give an exclusive interview with Breitbart – the hard-right website masterminded by odious presidential Svengali Steve Bannon. An odd choice.

Pai has been avoiding interviews for months with journalists who cover communications, technology, and policy, only turning up to softball interviews with outlets that he knows will praise him or light TV shows more interested in fashion trends than telecom policy.

Earlier this month, when tech scribe Jon Brodkin complained he had been asking for an interview with Pai for months, Pai responded on Twitter with: "Can't imagine why," alongside screengrabs of the reporter's critical posts about him.

When Pai's not repeating conspiratorial talking points, he accuses individuals of being socialists and lovers of the Venezuelan regime, advocates of net neutrality as being out-and-out liars, and a huge percentage of American citizens as being hypocritical and anti-free speech.

In short, the head of a federal regulator, who has to oversee serious and complex tasks and find the optimal solution to a wide range of issues that affect tens of millions of people, is increasingly acting like a dick. But why?

Where it went wrong

When the net neutrality rules were passed in 2015, the two Republicans on the five-person committee of the FCC, Pai and colleague Michael O'Rielly, voted against it.

The vote acted as a kind of partisan watershed at the federal regulator: the organization had always been political but generally worked hard to reach consensus. Differences of opinion were largely the result of personal belief and philosophy, not party political stances.

That all changed when President Obama made a highly unusual public intervention in a YouTube video in November 2014, in which he urged the FCC to reclassify broadband providers as "Title II" providers – something that would treat them as utility providers rather than free market companies.

Youtube Video

To Republicans, especially on the far right, this was everything they had been complaining about for the previous six years. It was direct interference in a largely independent organization. It was government regulation writ large. It was Obama. It was just plain wrong.

And worst of all, the FCC – which had been wavering between Title II and a hybrid solution devised by then-FCC chairman Tom Wheeler that would split internet access into "wholesale" and "retail" – did what Obama proposed, and went for Title II. The Republicans blew a gasket. And as a result, politics flooded into the watchdog.

From that point, with no love lost between the FCC's three Democrats and their Republican counterparts, as well as between the FCC majority and the cable industry that the regulator had overseen for decades, the rupture intensified.

Egged on by his "special counsel" and later "counselor to the chairman," Gigi Sohn, Wheeler proposed a whole range of new rules that went directly against Big Cable's interests: expanded data privacy rights; an overhaul of backhaul competition; forced public disclosure of broadband specs and data; and – most infuriatingly for Big Cable – an effort to end their multi-billion-dollar cable box rental rip-off.

Blow up

The result was that Big Cable, with its army of lobbyists and hefty war chests, gave up even communicating with the Democrats and focused their attention on Republicans. The result was rhetoric that grew hotter and crazier by the day.

At a Congressional hearing, the FCC's commissioners suddenly started trading blows. At one, Ajit Pai – who had always used colorful language but had really started moving away from considered lawyer speak and into political speechmaking – began feeding the partisan monster.

The FCC's media relations office had been "transformed from a shop of career staffers dedicated to representing the interests of the agency as a whole into a propaganda machine for the Chairman's Office," he railed. The staff was feeding information to the press and supporters and leaving the commissioner in the dark, he complained.

This was catnip to Republicans, and before you knew it, Pai found himself pulled into the inner circles of Congressional politics, trading information and issuing statements that reflected the Republican party line.

In turn, what he told Congressional Republicans started being relayed publicly by senior politicians. Pai became their man in the FCC and a "rising star."

The collusion became so obvious that Senate Democrats officially asked Pai and his Republican colleague to hand over emails covering their interactions over concerns that what they were doing was seriously improper. Pai and O'Rielly simply refused to hand anything over.

And that was the point at which Ajit Pai started becoming a real dick.

Next page: Not all bad, though

Other stories you might like

  • FCC: Applications for funds to replace Chinese comms kit lack evidence
    Well you told us to rip and ... hang on, we're not getting any money?

    The saga of the US government's plan to rip and replace China-made communications kit from the country's networks has a new twist: following reports that applications for funding far outstripped the cash set aside, it appears two-thirds of such applications lack adequate cost estimates or sufficient supporting evidence.

    The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) informed Congress that it had found deficiencies in 122 of the 181 of the applications filed with it by US carriers for funding to reimburse them for replacing telecoms equipment sourced from Chinese companies.

    The FCC voted nearly a year ago to reimburse medium and small carriers in the US for removing and replacing all network equipment provided by companies such as Huawei and ZTE. The telecoms operators were required to do this in the interests of national security under the terms of the Secure and Trusted Communications Networks Act.

    Continue reading
  • SpaceX: 5G expansion could kill US Starlink broadband
    It would be easier to take this complaint seriously if Elon wasn't so Elon

    If the proposed addition of the 12GHz spectrum to 5G goes forward, Starlink broadband terminals across America could be crippled, or so SpaceX has complained. 

    The Elon Musk biz made the claim [PDF] this week in a filing to the FCC, which is considering allowing Dish to operate a 5G service in the 12GHz band (12.2-12.7GHz). This frequency range is also used by Starlink and others to provide over-the-air satellite internet connectivity.

    SpaceX said its own in-house study, conducted in Las Vegas, showed "harmful interference from terrestrial mobile service to SpaceX's Starlink terminals … more than 77 percent of the time, resulting in full outages 74 percent of the time." It also claimed the interference will extend to a minimum of 13 miles from base stations. In other words, if Dish gets to use these frequencies in the US, it'll render nearby Starlink terminals useless through wireless interference, it was claimed.

    Continue reading
  • TikTok US traffic defaults to Oracle Cloud, Beijing can (allegedly) still have a look
    Alibaba hinted the gig was worth millions each year

    The US arm of Chinese social video app TikTok has revealed that it has changed the default location used to store users' creations to Oracle Cloud's stateside operations – a day after being accused of allowing its Chinese parent company to access American users' personal data.

    "Today, 100 percent of US user traffic is being routed to Oracle Cloud Infrastructure," the company stated in a post dated June 18.

    "For more than a year, we've been working with Oracle on several measures as part of our commercial relationship to better safeguard our app, systems, and the security of US user data," the post continues. "We still use our US and Singapore datacenters for backup, but as we continue our work we expect to delete US users' private data from our own datacenters and fully pivot to Oracle cloud servers located in the US."

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022