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Trump’s FCC chairman Ajit Pai is ‘one of the worst picks possible,’ Rep. Ro Khanna says

Khanna calls Pai a mouthpiece for the telecom industry and an opponent of free competition.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler Testifies To House Committee On The FCC's Net Neutrality Rule Chip Somodevilla / Getty

Democratic Rep. Ro Khanna, a congressman in his first term representing California’s 17th district, is quick to denounce President Trump. But he also doesn’t mince words about Trump’s FCC chairman, Ajit Pai.

“I think he’s one of the worst picks possible in government,” Khanna said of Pai on the latest episode of Recode Decode, in discussion with Recode’s Kara Swisher and Tony Romm. “Did you see the Charter decision? It’s appalling.”

The “Charter decision” refers to a recent unanimous FCC vote ruling that Charter Communications would not have to expand high-speed internet access into areas already covered by competitors like Comcast. (Disclosure: Comcast subsidiary NBCUniversal is an investor in Vox Media, which owns Recode).

“I don’t know as much about technology as some of the people I represent, but I know this: We invented the internet, we invented a lot of broadband,” Khanna said. “Why are we paying five times more than people in Europe? The reason is, it’s basically a monopoly here.”

“[Pai] is carving up the map, no competition,” he added. “And the people who suffer the most are — actually — Trump voters, in rural America! They’re the ones whose prices go up. They’re the ones who have to think, ‘Do I subscribe to the internet or not? Do I get fast service?’ He has been a mouthpiece for telecom companies in one of the most economically concentrated industries in the country.”

You can listen to Recode Decode on Apple Podcasts, Google Play Music, TuneIn, Stitcher and SoundCloud.

Khanna said he’s also passionate about net neutrality, which Pai is attempting to roll back, and worried that that effort was getting buried under news about other endangered platforms like Obamacare. He said ending net neutrality, which prevents internet service providers from giving certain content on the web preferential treatment, would negatively impact the internet for both startups and consumers.

“If you do that, you’re not just stifling innovation, but you’re having a greater concentration of economic power in the hands of a few,” Khanna said. “That’s been the problem on Wall Street, it’s been the problem with airlines, it’s been the problem with telecommunication companies. Why would we want the internet to become subject to monopolistic behavior and anti-competitive behavior? Net neutrality is a pro-competitive, pro-innovation policy.”

On the new podcast, Khanna also railed against the recent vote canceling planned Obama-era protections for consumers’ privacy — specifically, the ability of ISPs to sell their customers’ data without asking them first.

“There’s a suspicion of big government, of corporations,” he said. “Why would you want people who already feel disempowered by the system to think now, 'Companies can take my personal data and profit off it’? It makes absolutely no sense.”

He said if Republicans were really concerned that telecom companies were subject to more regulations than tech companies, then the answer should have been more rules, not fewer.

“We need an internet bill of rights that protects consumers from the ISPs, but also from Google and Facebook,” Khanna said. “That argument is saying, ‘We need more protection, so the answer is let’s just have no protection.’ If the Republicans had said, ‘We need a bill to equalize this and Google and Facebook should also be subject to these regulations,’ I would vote yes.”

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