Pai, Others Call Out Protesters at His Home

FCC chair Ajit Pai has told Fox & Friends that net-neutrality protesters have "crossed a line" with hateful signs that target his children.

Fox News Channel reported Monday (Nov. 27) that demonstrators had been gathering outside Pai's home after last week's release of the order to reclassify ISPs as information services not subject to mandatory access regulations and to eliminate most of the bright-line network-neutrality rules.

Signs posted on the street outside the FCC chair's home included some naming his children and asking how his kids could look him in the eye as he was "murdering Democracy in cold blood," according to a tweet by one of Pai's neighbors that was cited in the Fox & Friends story.

I have a friend that lives near @AjitPaiFCC. Net neutrality "activists" posted these signs, featuring his children's names, outside his house. Pizzas also reportedly sent to his house every half-hour last night.

— Brendan Bordelon (@BrendanBordelon) November 25, 2017

“It certainly crosses a line with me,” Pai said on the show. “Families … should remain out of it, and [protesters should] stop harassing us at our homes. ... It was a little nerve-racking, especially for my wife, who’s not involved in this space.”

Former FCC chair Tom Wheeler also had protesters outside his home before he switched to a Title II approach to net-neutrality rules -- the approach Pai is now moving to roll back -- but the demonstrators were not threatening, and Wheeler even spoke with them and posed for a photo at one point.

Protesters had taken to Pai's street back in May, as well, after the FCC voted to propose the Title II rollback, but the tone of the newest protest had an uglier edge.

Pai chief of staff Matthew Berry also condemned -- by way of retweets -- some of the hateful and even racist messages aimed at Pai and his family by opponents of his proposal, including one that said he should get cancer and his family should be executed so they could not pass his genes on.

Former FCC chair Michael Copps, now a special advisor to Common Cause, is one of the strongest critics of Pai's proposal, but he told B&C that, as he tweeted over the Thanksgiving Day weekend, there is not a place for such hateful speech in the net-neutrality discussion, and anyone who directs it toward the current chair is no ally of his.

Copps added that when he was on the commission, he was concerned about hate speech and would like to see more done to rein it in, adding that given how much uncivil dialog is going on these days, the problem should be a little more obvious.

Fred Campbell, president of Tech Knowledge, which backs Pai's Title II rollback, stood up for the chair and against the protests.

“The repeated racist attacks against FCC chairman Ajit Pai and his family in their own home during the holiday weekend are horrific," he said. "The perpetrators of this villainy should be ashamed. These attacks aren’t net-neutrality advocacy. They are terrorism.”

Free Press president Craig Aaron distanced his group, which is strongly opposed to the Title II rollback, from the attacks on Pai and condemned the tenor and tactics.

Should go without saying, but we'll say it again and again.

— Free Press Action (@freepressaction) November 27, 2017

"We don't condone this type of harassment. We believe in rigorous public debate," said Evan Greer, campaign director at Fight for the Future, which called for protests of the pending vote to roll back Title II. "People who care about this issue should be channeling their anger productively and calling on their lawmakers to take action to stop the FCC vote."

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.