Rep. Pallone: Pai Proposal is Threat to Online Speech

Rep. Frank Pallone said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai's effort to roll back Title II classification and rethink Open Internet rules was a threat to free speech online.

Pallone, ranking member of the House Energy & Commerce Committee, was speaking at a New America event Wednesday (May 3) promoted as "The Fight for Net Neutrality Begins Again."

Pallone, who strongly backed the Open Internet order, said that online dialog is critical to democracy, but would be jeopardized by Republicans pushing to overturn the rules. He said that without net neutrality rules, large corporations can "begin to choke off conversations they don’t like and speed up ones they do."

He said network conglomerates that control the infrastructure are buying content, like news outlets, which gives them a financial incentive to give preference to their own news. But he says the incentive could also be political.

He said Pai's plan would allow powerful businesses to try and please powerful political interests by censoring dissenting voices for fear of reprisal if they don't. And that threat is not far-fetched, he said, pointing to last year's House protest, that was carried on social media after Republicans turned off the cameras after gaveling out a session.

"[B]ecause of the power of the free and open internet, we were able to break through," he said. "In a move that would have been impossible just a few years ago, we streamed our own protest live and online." Without strong net neutrality rules, he said, the Republicans that pulled the plug on the cameras could pressure broadband providers to block the online video--Republicans argued they were following the rules that the cameras go off when a session ends. "[T]he same people who shut off those cameras are cheering on Chairman Pai’s proposal to take away our open internet."

He also took aim at paid prioritization, which he said "real net neutrality rules, like the current Open Internet order, would prevent.

He said noone should be fooled by those who say they want an Open Internet and support paid prioritization, which will create fast and slow lanes that do not benefit consumers.

He said that innovative startups would be hurt and that power needs to remain with the people, not big corporations.

Rep. Pallone said that a "repeal and replace" strategy for net neutrality is not going to result in a "replace." He said there is no reason to believe Republicans will do that. "We don't buy it."

He said Pai has at least been consistent in saying he wanted to kill net neutrality. He said it was the first time that an FCC chairman has said that his agency did not have a role in enforcing those basic rights.

"We are tired of this issue becoming a political football," he said. "We are going to do everything we can to fight it... Make some noise, write to the FCC, go to town halls."

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.