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FCC Chairman Defends Repeal Of Net Neutrality


Next month, we could see a major change to our online lives. The Republican push to repeal Obama-era regulations is coming to the Internet. The Federal Communications Commission is set to repeal regulations on Internet service providers. The chairman of the FCC, Ajit Pai, wants to get rid of rules from 2015 that enforce net neutrality. That's the idea that a company connecting you to the Internet should not get to decide what websites load faster or slower. We should note, NPR's legal counsel has filed comments with the FCC against deregulation. Chairman Ajit Pai joins us now in our studios.

Thanks so much for being here.

AJIT PAI: Thank you for having me on.

MARTIN: Explain how deregulating, removing the net neutrality rules, is going to help consumers.

PAI: I am in the somewhat unusual position as a Republican chairman of the FCC to say that President Clinton got it right in 1996 when he established a free-market-based approach to this new thing called the Internet. And the Internet economy we have is a result of his light-touch regulatory vision. We saw $1.5 trillion of investment in networks.

We saw companies like Facebook, and Amazon and Google become global powerhouses precisely because we had light-touch rules that applied to this Internet. And the Internet wasn't broken in 2015 when these heavy-handed regulations were adopted, and once we remove them, I think we'll continue to see the infrastructure investment that will benefit digital consumers and entrepreneurs alike.

MARTIN: Although the Internet in the 1990s was a lot different than the Internet is today - there are far more Internet service providers and a lot of other content providers. And you're arguing that by removing these rules, that inevitably, this open-market system is going to make things better for consumers. But what does it mean that existing websites will essentially be able to pay ISPs to give them preferential treatment?

PAI: In some cases, one could imagine that being a positive. If you want, for example, to make sure that - you're a health care startup, and you want to prioritize the traffic of your patients who are being monitored remotely, that could be...

MARTIN: If you have the money to pay...

PAI: And if it's...

MARTIN: But if you're competing with a bigger behemoth of a company that can pay instead of you, then you're on the losing end.

PAI: And if it's anti-competitive conduct - and in that case, the Federal Trade Commission is squarely empowered to protect consumers and competition to make sure that we don't let some of those anti-competitive business practices go forward.

MARTIN: What about small towns where there aren't any choices for ISPs? Let's say you just got one. And if that's - ISP decides that they're going to slow down your Internet service or limit the speed of certain websites, what are your options?

PAI: Two different answers - No. 1, the solution to that is not heavy-handed regulation from Washington, it's more competition. And so I've talked to a lot of companies that say, look, we want to be able to invest in these networks, especially in rural and low-income urban areas, but the more heavy-handed the regulations are, the less likely we can build a business case for doing it.

Secondly, if you talk to some of these providers - and I've visited them. Government-owned ISPs in Laurens, Iowa, small fixed-wireless providers in Parsons, Kan. - these are the small companies that are the most necessary to provide competition and an alternative to the big guys in some of these towns. They are the ones who are suffering the most, and they've told us that on the record.

MARTIN: So it sounds like you are shifting responsibility for this over to the Federal Trade Commission. You see that as the authority that would enforce Internet service providers instead of the FCC. Does that mean you don't see this as a communications issue, I mean, even though the Internet is the way we communicate today?

PAI: Two different things - No. 1, the FCC would still require transparency. Any business practice that would affect the offering of a service has to be disclosed to the consumers, and entrepreneurs can understand exactly how these businesses are operated. Secondly, the Federal Trade Commission has long had authority and had authority prior to 2015 for almost 20 years over this space. And the result was pretty clear. They took targeted action against the bad apples, and they let everyone else thrive in a free market, and I think consumers and companies were better off as a result.

MARTIN: Ajit Pai is the chairman of the FCC. We've been talking about his decision - the FCC's decision - to lift net neutrality rules that were put in place by the Obama administration. Chairman Pai, thanks so much for your time this morning.

PAI: Anytime, thanks.

(SOUNDBITE OF SENSIBLE SOCCERS' "SHAMPOM") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.