Proponents of net neutrality protest against Federal Communication Commission Chairman Ajit Pai outside the American Enterprise Institute before his arrival, May 5, in Washington, D.C. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
The Federal Communications Commission chairman, Ajit Pai, has come under a blistering attack by several Indian American lawmakers and activists for his proposal to repeal the Obama-era net neutrality policy, writes Lalit K. Jha.
The activists also protested outside Pai’s home in Virginia with signs directing at his children.
Pai, 44, blasted the activists for “harassing” his family members, saying they “crossed the line.”
He is facing backlash from his opponents for his proposal which seeks to reverse Obama era’s net neutrality, which meant that all websites are treated equally by Internet providers.
His proposal would end net neutrality and give big Internet providers like Comcast and Verizon broad powers to determine what website should reach out to subscribers faster than others.
The activists not only staged protest outside Pai’s home with signs directing at his children, they also reportedly sent pizzas to his home every half hour. Some media reports said the frequency was every 15 minutes.
This is the first instance that a senior Indian American administration official in any of the presidential administration being harassed and threatened by opponents.
Signboards and placards placed by protestors outside Pai’s house in Virginia mocked him for his views.
“I understand that people are passionate about policy, but the one thing in America that should remain sacred is that families, wives and kids, should remain out of it. And stop harassing us at our homes,” Pai told ‘Fox and Friends.’
His proposal is scheduled to come out to vote before FCC, Dec. 14. This is expected to pass as the Republicans have five votes as against three from the Democratic Party.
Pai expressed his displeasure when asked about the protest outside his house in Virginia. “It was a little nerve-racking, especially for my wife,” he said.
“Internet regulation activists have crossed the line by threatening and harassing my family. They should leave my family out of this and focus on debating the merits of the issue,” Pai was quoted as saying by The Washington Post.
In an interview to PBS News early this month, Pai had said the digital landscape has changed, and the government should stop “micromanaging the Web.”
Instead, he argued, “companies should be transparent about their policies.”
Free Press Action, which has been seeking net neutrality condemned the personal attack against Pai and his family.
“If you are sending racist message to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, mocking his name, heritage or family, we do not want you in this new neutrality fight,” it said.
Pai’s controversial proposal triggered a war of words between him and Indian American lawmakers.
“We need stronger net neutrality laws that ban most forms of zero rating instead of weakening these laws!” first-term Congressman from Silicon Valley Ro Khanna tweeted. He also shared an article from the Los Angeles Times according to which “in Portugal, with no net neutrality, Internet providers are starting to split the net into packages.”
He said the FCC is giving major corporations “even more control over the media, paving the way for megamergers like Sinclair-Tribune.” “We have to fight for less consolidation to save our democracy,” he added.
Pai reacted sharply, saying Khanna was making a false accusation.
“In addition to making the false assertion that Portugal has no net neutrality, Congressman Khanna is pointing to an example that has nothing to do with net neutrality,” he said.
Senator Kamala Harris said over 7,00,000 Californians and more than 8 million Americans have already submitted comments in response to the FCC’s “misguided” proposal.
“Our message has been clear: broadband providers must not be allowed to tilt the playing field by blocking or throttling their competitors, prioritizing their offerings, or otherwise unreasonably interfering with lawful content,” she said.
The FCC, Harris alleged, wants to do is empower broadband service providers, the gatekeepers of the Internet, to potentially distort the online marketplace and set up a pay-for-play system.
“This would be a terrible mistake that would hurt the most vulnerable and voiceless among us. It will imperil our economy while reducing innovation, entrepreneurship, and creativity,” she said in an email to her supporters.
Tulsi Gabbard, the first Hindu lawmaker, alleged that Pai and the FCC were rewarding “pay-to-play politics,” ensuring that those with money have a seat at the table and shutting out everyone else.
“The FCC must fulfill their responsibility to all Americans, not just big Internet Service Providers (ISPs),” Gabbard said.
Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal said with dismantling of net neutrality rules, the competition among new streaming services and content providers will be severely damaged.
“If these rules are repealed, your ISP will be able to charge you more to access certain content. Those with more money will get faster Internet service, or be able to access more of the Internet,” she said.
“The large corporations will have a freehand to charge discriminatory rates to benefit themselves, and limit the free speech and access of their consumers,” she added.