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FCC Chairman Ajit Pai calls for a ‘lighter touch’ to internet regulation

Pai spoke with Recode’s Tony Romm on this bonus episode of Recode Decode.

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai Addresses 2017 NAB Show In Las Vegas Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

In 2015, the FCC voted to approve strict net neutrality rules, prohibiting internet service providers from throttling connection customers’ speeds or blocking certain sites. On the latest episode of Recode Decode, new FCC Chairman Ajit Pai explained why he wants to undo those rules, saying they are “not the same as an open internet.”

“We don’t want to impose monopoly-style regulation developed for Ma Bell in the 1930s, to apply to every single company in the United States that is building out a broadband network,” Pai told Recode’s Tony Romm. “We would much rather have the free-market ‘light touch’ approach that the Clinton administration adopted. We’re not saying the choice is either Title II or the Wild West, it’s light-touch regulation, the middle ground, that we’re looking to return to.”

However, Pai acknowledged that tensions are high, as they were in 2014 when John Oliver helped mobilize a massive call-in campaign to the FCC in favor of net neutrality. By the end of a public-comment campaign on the issue, nearly four million Americans had weighed in.

“We have to remember that not all four million were in support of the [net neutrality] rules,” Pai said. “Some 1.6 to 1.7 million were opposed. But this is not a numerical threshold. What we have to do at the agency is figure out the right regulatory framework to preserve a free and open internet and the incentive to invest in networks.”

“I don’t think it’s a radical position to say that the Clinton administration got it right,” he added. “The Bush administration got it right. The first six years of the Obama administration got it right. This is a bipartisan issue, historically.”

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Pai also discussed his relationships with both Congress and Donald Trump, who appointed him. He said the FCC is and should be apolitical at its core, and that Trump and his team have not meddled at all with the agency’s independence.

“I’ve never gotten any hint from him or from anybody else that they wanted me to make a certain decision,” he said. “To the contrary, the consistent message they have given me, starting with the phone call on Jan. 23, when I was designated as chairman, was, ‘We have now made the decision that you are the appropriate person to lead this agency. Lead this agency. Do what you think is right and we will back you up. We’re not going to sit here and interfere with you or micromanage you in any way whatsoever.”

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