MWC 2017: New FCC Chair Says Net Neutrality ‘A Mistake’ And Won’t Bow To Trump Pressure

The new chairman of the US communications regulator has pledged to maintain a ‘light touch’ regime and not to bow to any pressure from President Donald Trump, the man who appointed him.

Ajit Pai has only been chair of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for a matter of weeks and his appointment had been greeted cautiously by proponents of net neutrality. They are likely to be more concerned now that he has called the regulations a mistake.

Indeed, one of his first actions was to end the investigation into the zero rating of certain services, and at Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona he vowed to reverse the recent move away from a “cross party consensus” of minimalist intervention introduced during the Clinton administration.

“America’s approach to broadband will be practical not ideological,” he declared, promising to deliver a framework that would promote innovation.

Promoting access

He said that if the FCC had treated broadband as a monopoly industry, Americans would not have the connectivity they enjoy today as multiple operators built fixed and wireless networks to compete with one another.

In what would have been music to the industry’s ears, Pai vowed to pursue policies that would promote access and give telcos the freedom to do what they wanted with their networks and spectrum.

Supporters of Net Neutrality, the principle that all Internet traffic should be treated equally, claim it is essential for the existence of an open Internet. Opponents however believe it is restrictive and stifles innovation.

If such actions were not taken, Pai, operators might not be willing to invest in more advanced networks needed to support 5G and the Internet of Things (IoT) and US businesses would suffer as a result.

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“We are on the cusp of unparalleled innovation, but it’s not a foregone conclusion we will realise this potential,” he added. “The key to realising this 5G future is to set rules that maximise investment in broadband. Infrastructure doesn’t have to be built so the more difficult the government makes it for business to deploy broadband, the less likely operators are to take risk.”

Pai said the investigation against zero rating resulted in uncertainty and looked to solve a problem that didn’t exist. He said investment into telecoms infrastructure decreased after 2015 and would shy away from pre-emptive intervention, only taking action where the market is failing, such as rural broadband.

Much has been made of the President’s influence over the FCC, but Pai said the agency would continue to make its decisions based on facts rather the whims of President Trump who has waged war against large sections of the media. It had been suggested Trump would use the looming AT&T and Time Warner merger to gain leverage but Pai plans no review.

“I take a very boring, humble view of my role,” he said. “We’re an independent agency and look at the facts and base decisions on laws and precedents.

“These are political decisions [which are], as we say in the US, above my pay grade. We aren’t [influenced] by the news. If we deviate from our mission I become a political actor.”

Quiz: The past, present and future of 4G networks

Steve McCaskill

Steve McCaskill is editor of TechWeekEurope and ChannelBiz. He joined as a reporter in 2011 and covers all areas of IT, with a particular interest in telecommunications, mobile and networking, along with sports technology.

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