Headlining at Verizon Headquarters, FCC Chair Ajit Pai Dismisses Net Neutrality Defenders as 'Desperate'

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Headlining at Verizon Headquarters, FCC Chair Ajit Pai Dismisses Net Neutrality Defenders as 'Desperate'

"This is the kind of corruption that turns your stomach," said Evan Greer of Fight for the Future

Protests are planned outside Verizon stores and congressional offices across the U.S. on Thursday, a week ahead of a vote on net neutrality. As of Tuesday, more than 770,000 people had voiced their support of net neutrality on the website BattleForTheNet.com. (Photo: @LiberalResist/Twitter)

Net neutrality advocates geared up for protests as Federal Communications Commission (FCC) head Ajit Pai headed to Verizon's headquarters in Washington D.C. on Tuesday to speak at an telecommunications policy event, days before a planned vote on net neutrality protections that's expected to benefit Verizon—Pai's former employer—and other internet service providers (ISPs).

"This is the kind of corruption that turns your stomach," said Evan Greer, campaign director for Fight for the Future, of Pai's plan to speak at Verizon as he ignored his opponents' arguments. "Ajit Pai is an embarassment to his own party and under his leadership the FCC has made a mockery of our democratic process. With a rogue FCC commissioner blatantly captured by the industry he is supposed to provide oversight for, Congress must do their job and take action to stop the FCC vote on December 14."

The City of New York joined with internet freedom and consumer protection groups to send a letter (pdf) to Pai on Monday, urging him to delay the vote until after a pending court case regarding AT&T's throttling of their customers' mobile Internet connections.

"Rushing to a vote before the Ninth Circuit resolves this decision cavalierly risks the purported safeguards that you and other supporters of the Draft Order have repeatedly declared will protect consumers from abusive or anti-­competitive practices," read the letter.

Pai dismissed the concerns of the signers, releasing a statement calling the letter "evidence that supporters of heavy-handed Internet regulations are becoming more desperate by the day...The vote will proceed as scheduled on December 14."

In response, Harold Feld, senior vice president for the advocacy group Public Knowledge, said Pai's dismissal of the letter speaks volumes about whose interests the chairman is serving. "The FCC's official response is name calling," Feld told Ars Technica. "This tells anyone interested who is 'fear mongering' and who really has the interests of consumers at heart."

What Pai refers to as "heavy-handed regulations" are net neutrality rules which prevent ISPs including AT&T and Verizon from speeding up, slowing down, or blocking content on the Internet. Without these rules, companies would be able to give preferential treatment to websites that pay extra fees to make it easier for users to view their content, relegating other sites to a "slow lane" where they would struggle to reach users.

Proponents argue that an elimination of net neutrality would amount to an attack on free speech, the press, and marginalized communities that rely on an open internet to organize against oppression.

Two FCC commissioners, both Democrats, are expected to vote in favor of net neutrality, with the panel's three Republican members voting against it. One of the Democrats, Jessica Rosenworcel, criticized the process through which the commission is heading into the vote, in light of reports that about one million of the public comments left regarding the issue appear to be fraudulent. Pai has refused to investigate the potentially fake comments.

"While I fundamentally disagree with the merits of the FCC's proposal, what is equally concerning is the lack of integrity to the FCC's process that has led to this point," wrote Rosenworcel in a statement emailed to Vice on Monday.

"This is the kind of corruption that turns your stomach," said Evan Greer, campaign director for Fight for the Future, of Pai's plan to speak at Verizon as he ignored his opponents' arguments. "Ajit Pai is an embarassment to his own party and under his leadership the FCC has made a mockery of our democratic process. With a rogue FCC commissioner blatantly captured by the industry he is supposed to provide oversight for, Congress must do their job and take action to stop the FCC vote on December 14."

On Thursday, a week before the FCC's vote, net neutrality advocates plan to hold at least 600 demonstrations at Verizon stores and Congressional offices. As of Tuesday, more than 770,000 Americans had called Congress through BattleForTheNet.com to demand Republican representatives halt the vote.

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