FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, ISP-endorsed frontman and villain of a theoretical future Revenge of the Nerds reboot, is trying to dupe everyone into believing abandoning open internet principles is inevitable because no opponents have any convincing arguments.
At an FCC oversight hearing with the House Commerce Committee this week, Democratic Rep. Michael Doyle challenged Pai to present any sort of willingness to consider the evidence offered by net neutrality supporters, Ars Technica reported.
“What kind of comment would cause you to change your mind?” Doyle asked.
Pai offered the mind-blowing response that he would need to see “economic analysis that shows credibly that there’s infrastructure investment that has increased dramatically” since the enactment of Barack Obama-era neutrality rules, or any evidence showing a future economy or consumers’ experience would be worse without the regulations.
It’s an insidious response that gets more insidious the further it’s probed. Network neutrality is the simple principle that common carriers (ISPs) must treat all traffic on their networks on an equitable basis, whether it’s newspapers, porn, or a competitor’s video platform. It does not require anyone to build new infrastructure—though because traffic discrimination is not allowed, these rules of the game force ISPs to act like utilities and upgrade their networks to deal with higher traffic, or they will simply get slower and slower.
The idea that because US ISPs have chosen to continue offering subpar services at some of the most expensive rates in the world disproves the principle and thus they should be allowed to set up a tiered system is essentially endorsing a race to the bottom. But it’s even worse than that. As Techdirt noted earlier this year, ISPs are notorious for taking billions of dollars in government contracts to expand service and then finding various contractual loopholes to pocket as much of the funds as possible. Pai’s answer simply rewards this behavior, and frankly incentivizes them to present their own subpar services as evidence of the need for further deregulation.
A recent report by Free Press also found publicly traded ISPs do not seem to think open network principles are a threat to investment in new infrastructure, according to their own statements to investors. Free Press also disputes Pai’s account, saying their numbers show investment has increased.
As for the implication no one has done convincing research on open network principles and their impact on the economy, there is an incredible wealth of academic and nonprofit research on net neutrality. Pai, who should be responsible for absorbing at least some of this and literally has a policy division at his agency, is citing his own supposed lack of insight—a convenient position, since he can always choose to remain unconvinced.