FCC Chairman Ajit Pai joined the pack at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) on Friday alongside fellow Republican commissioners Michael O’Rielly and Brendan Carr—the architects of the recent order repealing net neutrality protections passed in the Obama era.
Upon taking the stage, it was announced that Pai was receiving an award from the National Rifle Association: a handmade Kentucky long gun and plaque known as the “Charlton Heston Courage Under Fire Award.” While the gun itself was not presented onstage today, here’s a photo of David Clarke receiving the same award at CPAC in 2015:
A grinning Pai told the crowd he was not expecting the award.
By the time the chairman took the stage to champion big business during day two of the conference, at least eight businesses had announced they were severing ties with the NRA and no longer offering discounts to its members. Gizmodo reported earlier Friday that the security company Symantec and its subsidiary LifeLock had cut ties with the NRA following First National Bank and Enterprise Holdings, which owns three separate car rental companies. MetLife and Simplisafe, a Boston-based home security company, made similar announcements soon after.
The boycott, prompted largely by an outcry from users on social media, came amid a growing backlash against the gun lobbying group following the school shooting in Parkland, Florida. Worsening matters for the group, NRA spokesperson Dana Loesch had told a CPAC crowd on Thursday: “Many in legacy media love mass shootings. You guys love it.”
After the award announcement, Pai, O’Reilly, and Carr took turns patting themselves on the back for rolling back the net neutrality rules.
“When you get outside of DC, when people care about telecom, one of the things they’re passionate about is getting better, faster, cheaper broadband,” Carr said. “The last few years at the FCC was continuously imposing more regulations, more paperwork burdens, which was putting the US in the wrong direction.”
“I don’t play small ball,” Pai told the crowd. “I decided that I wanted to make a fundamental change in the way the [FCC] operates. I think it’s important for us to set rules for the road that allow the American people to take control of their own lives, instead of having it run out of an American bureaucracy.”
In mid-December, Pai, Carr, and O’Reilly voted in favor of an order which overturned rules meant to prevent broadband providers from blocking or throttling content or creating “fast lanes” to provide better service for companies that pay for it—essentially abdicating the agency’s authority to regulate the nation’s largest telecommunications companies.
The agency is current being sued by several net neutrality advocacy groups, as well as 23 state attorneys general, who allege the decision by the FCC’s Republican majority violates federal law and turns companies like AT&T and Verizon into “gatekeepers” of the internet, permitting them to manipulate online traffic to their own profit.
In 2017, the NRA gave Vice President Mike Pence the same award. “The award is a flintlock rifle, it’s what the mainstream media calls a high-powered weapon of war, so we left it out back,” an NRA spokesperson said at the time.