Pai Pulls Out of NRECA Speech Over Threats

Turns out there was a second speech FCC chairman Ajit Pai canceled this week, apparently related to the ongoing threat level tied to his Restoring Internet Freedom order vote to roll back net neutrality regs. Pai pulled out of a planned keynote Q&A at the CES Show in Las Vegas this week as well.

An FCC source noted that Jay Schwarz, wireline advisor to the chairman, was dispatched to the CEO Close-Up Conference of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) in Palm Desert, Calif., Jan. 8. On Dec. 4, NRECA announced that Pai would be the keynote speaker at the conference's opening general session, but Schwarz spoke instead.

"The chairman did not attend the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association Conference," a spokesperson for the chairman confirmed, but declined comment on the reason: "We do not comment on security measures or concerns."

The FCC chairman has been the subject of racists comments, death threats and other invective from online trolls, and was accused of choking, strangling and killing the open internet by activist groups and Hill Democrats, who also last week branded Pai and fellow Republicans' actions as "un-American."

There were also protests outside Pai's house, including ones targeting his children, during the run-up to the Dec. 14 meeting featuring the net neutrality item, where a bomb threat briefly cleared the FCC meeting room before the final vote.

The actions that drew such blowback were to reclassify ISPs as Title I information services, and to eliminate FCC rules against online blocking, throttling, and paid prioritization in favor enforcement of voluntary pledges and existing existing laws by the Federal Trade Commission and Justice Department.

Reddit threads on the CES cancellation certainly confirmed the continuing animus toward the chairman in some online quarters, as well as the threats. "I'd give him 50/50 on getting out of the building alive," wrote one commenter of Pai's original plan to make an appearance; "I bet there were some death threats involved at some point. He is hated enough for that to happen. I am not in anyway saying doing that is ok but it is bound to happen," wrote another.

Of a series of deliveries to Pai's house of pizza's he didn't order, Pai told Fox News (according to a co-owned New York Post article about the issue): "“It was a little nerve-racking, especially for my wife, who’s not involved in this space. Families should remain out of it and stop harassing us at our homes.”

"We don't hear enough outrage out of Washington or most of the news media over this unbelievable situation where a dedicated public servant is having his and his families lives threatened," said former senior Republican FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell about the general tenor of the online net neutrality decision blowback. "This is outrageous, especially because it does not appear to have dissipated since the Dec. 14 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.