John Oliver Takes On FCC's Pai, Net Neutrality

John Oliver took on net neutrality in Last Week Tonight Sunday night, as he did three years ago—mocking the new chairman as he did the last one and calling on internet trolls and nerds to flood the FCC with comments.

Oliver mercilessly mocked new chairman Ajit Pai, including picturing him menacingly with a weed whacker, a reference to a speech where Pai said he would be using the tool to weed out unneeded regs, and with a favorite oversized Reese's mug. Oliver said Pai's down-to-earth nerdiness—which he suggested was an affectation—was what made him dangerous, including Pai's fondness for cultural references, like quotes from The Big Lebowski.

Related: Pai—FCC Will Encourage Innovations Like Free Data Plans

Last time around Oliver's take was on then chairman Tom Wheeler as a dingo babysitter (he was riffing on the fact that Wheeler both was not signaling a move to Title II reclassification—which ISPs had called the "nuclear" option—and was a former lobbyist for cable and cell phone companies as head of their trade associations).

Also last time around, Oliver helped drive millions of complaints to the FCC. He said a repeat of that flood was necessary again.  At press time midday Monday, the FCC's most-active dockets page, where the two net neutrality dockets occupied the top two spots, was unavailable , with various reports that Oliver's piece had succeeded in crashing the system.

Oliver said the process to complain was complicated so, as a public service, the show had bought the URL "" and viewers could go straight there to file a complaint that would then go to the FCC. "Tell Ajit Pai that you specifically support strong net neutrality backed by Title II oversight of ISPs," he said. "Every subculture must join as one… once more unto the breach my friends."

This time around, Oliver likened the plans by Pai to rollback Title II reclassification as part of the wider Trump Administration reg rollback, which he likened to Trump trying to kill every turkey Obama had pardoned (as part of a traditional Thanksgiving Day clemency photo op). He also mocked Pai's large coffee mug.


He said net neutrality is in trouble once again, but it is more than just about slowing traffic. It is about not allowing Charter or Comcast or Cox or Verizon or AT&T to "limit or manipulate the choices you make online."

Oliver mocked Verizon's YouTube video last week explaining that the FCC is not going to kill net neutrality rules and walked viewers through Verizon's challenge to the old net neutrality rules. Oliver likened trusting ISPs with the internet to letting O.J. Simpson hold your samurai swords. He also pointed out, as Title II fans have been lately, that Pai was a former lawyer for Verizon.

Oliver also used an ISP discussion with investors to suggest claims that Title II reclassification would depress investment were not all they were cracked up to be.

Public Knowledge, one of the groups pushing back on Pai's plan, was pleased with Oliver's call to the internet's flying "Reese's monkeys, as it were, to fly once again."

“It's time for the public to weigh in and tell Chairman Pai, Congress and the White House to keep their hands off the open internet," said VP Chris Lewis. "Once again, John Oliver nails it on the importance of strong open internet rules for our democracy and to prevent broadband price gouging. His wit revealed the hypocrisy of FCC Chairman Pai's effort to pad the pockets of cable and broadband monopolies by dismantling essential protections against internet discrimination."

John Eggerton

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.