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Pai to Senate Dems: Hysterical Net Neutrality Predictions Were Baseless

FCC chair Ajit Pai continued his net neutrality rule rollback defense on the Hill Thursday (Aug. 16), this time in a Senate Commerce Committee FCC oversight hearing, where he confronted the Democratic critics of his net neutrality deregulation.

It was the second such defense in as many months.

He also defended the June rollback of regs against blocking, throttling and paid prioritization in a House FCC oversight hearing last month.

Pai said the hysterical predictions, including from Hill Senate Democrats, that the rollback spelled doom for an open internet were just that.

"We were told that it would be the destruction of the Internet, or as some outlets put it, 'the end of the Internet as we know it,' he told the committee. "And the official Twitter account for Senate Democrats made the following assertion (one word per line in the actual tweet): 'If we don’t save net neutrality, you’ll get the internet one word at a time.' This claim was baseless when it was made. The Washington Post’s Fact Checker gave it three Pinocchio's and found that it 'conveys the false impression that a slowdown is imminent unless net neutrality rules are restored,” adding that 'we can’t help but feel that we’ve spilled a lot of pixels here analyzing something that simply hasn’t happened.' The claim remains false today.

"It has now been 67 days since the repeal of the previous Administration’s utility-style Internet regulations took effect. Far from ending or being delivered one word at a time, the Internet remains open and free."

Ranking member Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) led the Democrat criticisms of Pai at the hearing, saying the FCC was not closing the digital divide--one of the outcomes Pai has said would result from the net neutrality reg rollback.

Nelson said real solutions were needed for quality, affordable broadband, and it would take more than lip service and was certainly not advanced by repealing protections of a free and open internet.

He pointed out the previous 2015 Open Internet order rules the Pai FCC rolled back had been upheld by the courts. He also pointed out that the Senate had repudiated the reg rollback through the Congressional Review Act, passed by the Senate, which would nullify the Pai FCC's Dec. 14 deregulatory vote. It has not passed the House and is unlikely to do so.

Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), who motormanned the CRA, suggested that ISPs had not started to block or throttle "yet" because they were essentially laying low while the new rule rollback was still being litigated. Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel agreed that with the ability and incentive to create fast and slow lanes, it would happen.

For his part, Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), chair of the committee, hailed Pai for helping close that digital divide and process reforms, like publishing drafts of items teed up for a public vote, that he said contributed to openness and transparency.

Like Pai, Thune was also no fan of the Tom Wheeler FCC's 2015 Open Internet Order rules, which were based in Title II common carrier regulatory authority, which was also rolled back by the Pai FCC.

But Thune also said he was concerned about the FCC inspector general finding that the FCC, led by a chief information officer under the previous chairman, had misled the public and Congress about issues with the net neutrality comment docket that the FCC signaled were a DDoS attack, but were in fact due to a floor of comments prompted by comedian John Oliver.

He called that a mistake the FCC needed to correct.

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.