U.S. Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai huddled with executives from Apple, Facebook, Cisco and other tech giants in Silicon Valley this week, as he considers how he might replace the agency’s hotly contested net neutrality rules.
Speaking to reporters today, Pai stressed he’s been “consistent” in his view that he “favor[s] a free and open internet and that I oppose Title II,” a reference to the portion of law that Democrats tapped that subjects the likes of AT&T, Comcast and Verizon to utility-like regulation.
“Outside of the context of any pending proceeding, I’ve been simply soliciting thoughts on how to secure the online consumer protections that people have talked about,” Pai said.
The chairman’s conversation came in the form of a roundtable Monday (Apr. 17) convened with the help of Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins, according to two sources familiar with the matter. Other attendees included Brian Krzanich, the CEO of Intel; Kevin Martin, a former Republican FCC chairman who’s now working for Facebook; Bruce Sewell, the general counsel of Apple; and other representatives from companies including Oracle.
A spokesman for Pai declined to comment on the meeting, as did the companies that attended. Pai himself did not provide further information about his consultations when asked at a press conference following a series of votes Thursday that relaxed other regulations on the telecom industry.
A longtime foe of the agency’s net neutrality rules, Pai in recent weeks has explored his own alternative: Encouraging companies to commit voluntarily that they won’t block or slow down competitors’ web traffic. Under such a plan, sources say, net neutrality would be enforced by another agency, the Federal Trade Commission, which generally can punish companies that violate their public promises to consumers.
Pai previewed such an idea earlier this month in a private meeting with the telecom industry’s leading lobbying groups in Washington. Those corporate giants long have opposed the more onerous rules put in place by Pai’s predecessor, former Democratic FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler.
Many in the tech industry, however, have bristled at the early contours of Pai’s plan. That includes one of the Valley’s leading lobbying groups, the Internet Association, which represents companies like Facebook, Google and Twitter.
“The internet industry is uniform in its belief that net neutrality preserves the consumer experience, competition and innovation online,” the association told Pai in a private meeting last week. “In other words, existing net neutrality rules should be enforced and kept intact.”
The companies that huddled on Monday with Pai appeared to strike a different tone. Some in the room, like Intel and Cisco, have previously argued against net neutrality rules that treat telecom companies similar to utilities.
Others, like Facebook, publicly supported the Obama administration’s efforts. But a source with knowledge of the Monday meeting said the company’s representative there, former FCC Chairman Martin, did not challenge Pai on the publicly reported details of his plan.
Martin, for his part, is an important figure in net neutrality history: It was under his leadership that the FCC issued a policy statement on the issue in 2005, a series of principles against blocking or slowing web traffic that weren’t enforceable by nature.
Asked about the early jostling, Pai said at his press conference on Thursday he didn’t present any specific new regulations to the companies he’s consulted.
“I simply was exploring outside the context of any pending proceeding how to secure some of those principles of free and open internet that I think most people agree on,” he said.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.