Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chairman Ajit Pai is going on the offensive in his attempt to allow corporations to carve up the internet for cash.
On Tuesday Pai claimed that tech companies were being hypocritical by advocating for net neutrality while they “block or discriminate against content they don’t like” — specifically conservative content.
According to Pai, “Edge providers” like Google and Facebook pose a much bigger threat to a free, open internet then the FCC’s planned repeal of net neutrality, because they discriminate against differing viewpoints. He singled out Twitter, claiming that the company had a “double-standard when it comes to suspending or de-verifying conservative users’ accounts as opposed to those of liberal users.”
But the unspecified “conservatives” that Pai was referring to weren’t conservatives at all — they were neo-Nazis and white supremacists, to whom Twitter finally got around to banning and de-verifying on November 16, following a storm of criticism. Among those accounts were people like Jason Kessler, who organized the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville that left one counter-protester dead; neo-Nazi Richard Spencer; and the far-right founder of the English Defense League, Tommy Robinson. Twitter also permanently banned far-right troll Baked Alaska, who tried to return to the site using a new account. ThinkProgress discovered and reported on that new account and Twitter subsequently banned him once more.
What makes Pai’s comments even more ironic is that many conservatives actually loathe the FCC’s plan, believing, like progressives, that a net neutrality repeal would only lead to increased corporate control of the internet and stifle the creativity that allowed websites to bloom from dorm-room start-ups into products used all over the world. As The Intercept reported, commenters on Breitbart, the Daily Caller, and the Blaze — three popular right-wing websites — were all incensed over the FCC plan, with one poster calling the repeal “a heist and a hijacking” and another describing the plan as “the opposite of a free market.” Even Trump acolyte Julian Assange tweeted in support of net neutrality.
Dear @realDonaldTrump: 'net neutrality' of some form is important. Your opponents control most internet companies. Without neutrality they can make your tweets load slowly, CNN load fast and infest everyone's phones with their ads. Careful.
— Julian Assange 🔹 (@JulianAssange) November 21, 2017
Tech companies are also desperate to preserve net neutrality.
In an open letter to the FCC on Monday, hundreds of companies — including Airbnb, Twitter and Vimeo — implored Pai not to approve the repeal at the December 14 FCC meeting.
“[The repeal] would put small and medium-sized businesses at a disadvantage and prevent innovative new ones from even getting off the ground,” the letter read. “An internet without net neutrality protections would be the opposite of the open market, with a few powerful cable and phone companies picking winners and losers instead of consumers.”
Meanwhile, a White House “We the People” petition to protect net neutrality also made its way to Reddit, where it circulated and gained more than 130,000 signatures in less than 24 hours. At the time of publication, the petition had more than 220,000 signatures.
Pai believes that, by repealing the Obama-era neutrality provisions, the open market will lead to greater digital investment (especially in rural America), and would create faster, cheaper internet access. In practice, however, the repeal is likely to tip the scales of power toward massive corporations like Verizon and Comcast, which could then create two-tiered systems and decide which websites are allowed to be placed in their “fast lanes”, or which are relegated to a slower tier of service.
In effect, repealing net neutrality would stratify the internet, and make it extremely difficult for smaller websites — which Facebook, Skype and Google once were — to receive the attention their innovation would otherwise bring.