Powered by IR Society at NYU

IR Insider is a production of NYU's International Relations Society. Our goal is to explain and discuss issues in IR in an engaging and thought-provoking fashion. We are written by students, for students, about issues students care about. 

An Unpredictable Future for Net Neutrality with Pai as FCC Chairman

The U.S. Senate voted to confirm Ajit Pai to another five year term as chairman of the Federal Communications Community in a 52-41 vote conducted October 2.

Among the many responsibilities as the head of the agency, including monitoring the development of innovative services and overwatching public safety on the internet, Pai is in charge of enforcing the rules and maintaining net neutrality on the Internet.



Net neutrality is the principle that prohibits internet service providers (ISPs), like Spectrum and Verizon, from infringing upon the user’s internet experience by speeding up, slowing down, or blocking any content, applications and websites used, according to Save The Internet, a nonpartisan organization that aims to protect press freedom.

During Pai’s Senate confirmation, the opposition force, mostly composed of Democrats, strongly criticized the chairman for his attempts to loosen the interpretation of the internet’s Title II rules.

Title II is the key provision that establishes the internet as a common utility. It protects a significant role in protecting users online by stopping corporations from creating multi-tier memberships, which could give ISPs the ability to determine how to charge customers for their content. By stripping Title II and replacing it with a “light touch Title I approach,” ISPs could start competing for faster, more reliable broadband services.

Senator Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) expressed his discontent with Pai, arguing that the chairman has yet “to demonstrate his independence” from Republicans and private corporations. Schatz continued to attack Pai’s policy ideas, noting that the elimination of Title II “would benefit companies like the Sinclair Broadcasting Group.”

Michael Berkman, the CEO of the Internet Association, a group that represents top internet companies, echoed Senator Schatz’ words. “The current FCC net neutrality rules are working and these consumer protections should not be changed,” Berkman said.

For a long time, ISPs have had tremendous influence over politicians on Capitol Hill. In fact, internet and electronic manufacturing industries contributed nearly $5 million to Trump’s campaign, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. (Corporations typically donate to campaigns to increase their influence within a politician’s agenda.)

For a long time, the issue of net neutrality between both parties has long been contested. Republicans argue that the internet should be consistent with the free market system. Ajit Pai suggests that there is a need to “remove rules holding back investment, innovation, and and job creation.

On the other hand, Democrats believe that equal access to the internet is crucial in maintaining fairness. A day before Pai’s Senate Confirmation, An open letter signed by 13 Senate Democrats urged Pai to maintain the existing net neutrality rules. The letter outlined 3 areas of concern, including Pai’s attempt to “create internet “fast lanes, limit access to select websites, and block access to some services.”

However, a recent public opinion poll, conducted by Mozilla and Ipsos, found that 76 percent of Americans support net neutrality. This illustrates that regardless of their political affiliation, Americans want the internet to be free and open to all.

CREDIT: Greg Nash / The Hill 

CREDIT: Greg Nash / The Hill 

Nevertheless, the fate of net neutrality is uncertain. As Robert McDowell, an associate close to Pai notes, “[Ajit] Pai will be data-driven, not poll-driven.”

Under President Donald Trump, the chairman is looking to make this issue a partisan one. By dismantling the 2015 net neutrality rules that sought to eliminate pay to play “fast lanes” for web and media services set by the Obama Administration, Pai is aiming to do the bidding for both the President and the telecommunications industry.