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Ajit Pai's Upcoming Network Neutrality Speech Draws a Crowd

FCC chairman Ajit Pai's speech on net neutrality at a Wednesday event in Washington had the town buzzing Tuesday (April 25) that he would use that venue to announce his plans for how to roll back Title II classification of ISPs, though some in the industry were seeing it as more of a broad brush than a blueprint. 

The chairman is scheduled to talk about The Future of Internet Regulation at an event hosted by FreedomWorks. 

If the chairman wanted to vote on a new net neutrality proposal by the May 18 public meeting, he would need to circulate it to the other commissioners by Thursday, which was partly fueling the speculation. 

But one industry source suggested it would likely be more about the general need to protect net neutrality without the common carrier designation of Title II, perhaps even letting the Federal Trade Commission enforce voluntary openness pledges, and a further solicitation of input. 

An FCC spokesperson would only confirm that the speech would be about net neutrality.

In any event, foes of Pai's long-held opposition to Title II reclassification were not taking any chances, firing off statements in response.

"Every indication is that Chairman Pai is on the verge of announcing the details of his plan to gut net neutrality, an assault which would be the capstone of an agenda riddled with industry giveaways at the expense of consumers, competition, and small business," said Kate Forscey, government affairs associate at Public Knowledge. "If President Trump is serious about keeping his promises to help the forgotten in his first 100 days of office, then he and his administration should think twice about taking hatchets to consumer safeguards like net neutrality and start putting Americans first.”

Fight for the Future, which fought for Title II, was ready to fight again. "If Ajit Pai thinks that destroying net neutrality is going to be easy, he has another thing coming. Internet users will fight tooth and nail to defend our basic right to connect, create, learn, and share," said campaign director Evan Greer.

“Chairman Pai’s plan to gut the FCC’s net neutrality rules will devastate Black communities. Net neutrality is essential to protecting our free and open Internet, which has been crucial to today’s fights for civil rights and equality," said Rashad Robinson, executive director for Color of Change. "Our ability to have our voices heard in this democracy depends on an open Internet because it allows voices and ideas to spread based on substance, rather than financial backing. Net neutrality helps to ensure that the Internet is a place for innovation and opportunity for all, rather than just the wealthy few."

Pai is widely expected to propose a net neutrality path forward in the next couple of months and has been seeking input from telecoms and edge providers. But it remains to be seen whether he will schedule that for May, which he already signaled Tuesday will include the launch of a major review of media ownership regs—broadcast, cable and satellite. 

Then again, Pai has not been shy about loading his first meetings with items.

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.