Silicon Valley Threatens Open Web, FCC Chair Says

Companies like Twitter and Google pose a "much bigger" threat to the open internet than broadband providers, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai said Tuesday.

"Despite all the talk about the fear that broadband providers could decide what Internet content consumers can see, recent experience shows that so-called edge providers are in fact deciding what content they see," Pai said at a speech in Washington, D.C. "These providers routinely block or discriminate against content they don’t like."

Pai's remarks came in a speech defending his controversial plan to repeal the 2015 net neutrality order. That order, passed by a 3-2 vote, reclassified broadband as a utility service and prohibited providers from blocking or throttling content, and from charging companies higher fees for prioritized delivery. The net neutrality rules only apply to broadband providers and not so-called "edge" providers, like social networking services, search engines and other web publishers.



Numerous web companies and consumer advocates have criticized Pai's plan to repeal the rules, arguing that the repeal will leave broadband providers free to squelch content, and give preferential treatment to certain companies while disadvantaging others.

Pai characterized much of the criticism as "hysteria and hot air," and argued that Silicon Valley companies already engage in behavior that net neutrality advocates are criticizing.

"When it comes to an open Internet, Twitter is part of the problem," he said. "The company has a viewpoint and uses that viewpoint to discriminate."

Pai cited two examples: Two months ago, Twitter briefly prevented Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tennessee) from running an election video-ad that the company deemed inflammatory. (Twitter later reversed course and allowed the ad.) And in July, on a day when net neutrality advocates tried to rally support for the existing rules, Twitter flagged an AT&T blog post about the issue as potential spam and prevented users from re-tweeting it. Twitter said the block was caused by a glitch.

"To say the least, the company appears to have a double standard when it comes to suspending or de-verifying conservative users’ accounts as opposed to those of liberal users," Pai said. "This conduct is many things, but it isn’t fighting for an open Internet."

He also called attention to other allegations against edge providers, including streaming services that restrict videos "from the likes of conservative commentator Dennis Prager."

(He didn't name the service he was referring to, but Prager University recently sued YouTube for allegedly "censoring" clips.)

Pai also said his planned repeal would restore the "light touch" regulation of the Internet that supposedly existed before 2015. "Returning to the legal framework for Internet regulation that was in place three years ago today doesn’t sound like 'destroying the Internet' or 'ending the Internet as we know it,'" he said.

While broadband was classified as an "information" service, and not a "utility," until 2015, the FCC previously issued regulations that banned all providers from blocking sites or competing applications, and prohibited wireline providers from engaging in unreasonable discrimination. Those rules, passed in 2010, were in effect until 2014, when a federal appeals court invalidated them on the grounds that the FCC couldn't subject providers of an "information" service to common carrier rules.

Before that, the FCC said it would require broadband providers to follow a set of basic open Internet principles. But a federal appellate court ruled in 2010 that the FCC could not enforce those principles.

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