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Transcript: The FCC's Ajit Pai Wants to Destroy Your Internet (w/Guest Tim Karr) - 7 February 2017
Thom Hartmann: Welcome back, Thom Hartmann here with you and on the line with us is Tim Karr, the Senior Director of Strategy of the Free Press and Free Press Action Fund, the website freepress.net, you can tweet him @TimKarr or @freepress. Tim, welcome back to the program.
Tim Karr: Hi, Thom, how are you?
Thom Hartmann: Good, good. So I read this piece in the New York Times last night by Cecilia Kang titled "Trump’s F.C.C. Pick Quickly Targets Net Neutrality Rules". Wow! This guy's moving at the speed of light. Tell us about it.
Tim Karr: Well, I think he's taking a play from the Donald Trump book and decided to try to get as much done as early as possible. This is the new chairman of the FCC, Ajit Pai. He was appointed by Trump but he's been at the FCC for a number of years; he's served as a commissioner. So we know a little bit about his positions and his priorities and prior to coming to the FCC he was actually a lawyer for Verizon and his loyalties to the phone companies, his loyalties to the cable industry are very strong and those are reflected in most of all of the policy positions that he takes. They favor the phone and cable industry very often ...
Thom Hartmann: Not for consumers.
Tim Karr: ...not to the benefit of consumers. Exactly. So he's someone we need to look out for.
Thom Hartmann: So you're suggesting that apparently Ajit Pai is following the rest of the Trump administration's dicta that you just walk up to them and grab them by the ... law that you want to change, rule you want to change, whatever.
Tim Karr: Well, this sort of rejection of due process.
Thom Hartmann: Right. If you're powerful, they'll let you get away with it.
Tim Karr: Yeah, and what he did in the just last week was he, Friday afternoon in the classic what's known in Washington is a Friday news dump, he had a number of items released at the FCC that basically rolled back some of the advances that were made by his predecessor Tom Wheeler who was Obama's FCC Chairman, who was the champion of issues like net neutrality. But not just net neutrality also was a champion of getting cheaper affordable access to more people. He created rules that protected the privacy of internet users. So a lot of those advances under the prior FCC chair are now rapidly being rolled back by the new chairman Ajit Pai.
Thom Hartmann: So, if net neutrality goes away does that mean that if I say something to anger Comcast that they can simply decide that thomhartmann.com is going to be delivered to people's home more slowly than most other websites?
Tim Karr: Well, there would be without the net neutrality protections that are now in place, if you take those away, there is nothing to stop your internet access provider from discriminating in favor of content that it likes and against content that it does not like.
Thom Hartmann: In other words, it will become like Communist China, except it's corporate.
Tim Karr: Yeah, well if you talk about Comcast, it's corporate, yes. Comcast, for example, is not just interested in providing people with a high-speed internet connection. They also own NBCUniversal. NBCUniversal has a number of content properties as people know and so there would be a business incentive there for them to favor NBC products over news and information that might come from smaller independent organizations and competitors.
Thom Hartmann: Right. And what about this, the slicing and dicing of the Internet. I mean, I remember back a couple years ago when we went through this whole thing when we were trying to convince Tom Wheeler to put the Internet under Title II of the Telecommunications Code, in other words, consider it a public utility, that there were these graphics that were put together - I think you guys at Free Press did one. As I recall, we had you on television about this or on radio. It was like, okay, it was a graphic that showed sort of like the way that you buy cable TV.
Oh, you want basic Internet access? That's $35. You want domestic news sites? That's an extra $5 a month. You want international news sites? That's an extra $10 a month. You want streaming video? That's an extra $15 a month. You want porn? That's $20 a month. You know, and then basically slice and dice the internet and it wasn't so much a thing about ideology as it was about just figuring out how to maximize the income to the ISPs from the Internet.
But without net neutrality we could have both, right? I mean, we could have both a sliced and diced internet like so it's sort of the cable TV model and they could slow down freepress.net, for example, if they don't like what you're saying.
Tim Karr: Well yeah, I mean, you know, the Internet has become much more sophisticated now; it's not just surfing web sites, obviously, we're using it to talk, via applications like Skype, we're using it to listen to music, there are companies like Netflix that a lot of people use to watch television and movies. And the Internet Service Providers are also in the business of providing you telephone connections and they're in the business of streaming and selling movies in both theaters and online.
So they have this again natural incentive to try to take control of this open network and shut out the competitors to their own benefit. So when Tom Wheeler put in place Title II protections, net neutrality protections, that was very important for those of us who want the Internet to be this open network that basically puts power of choice in the hands of Internet users. We can choose what services we want, what news organizations we want to watch, listen to, read without our ISP making that determination for us.
Thom Hartmann: Well, we're always making these decisions through a process that was public, that was transparent, and invited public comments and in fact I would say arguably through efforts of people like you Tim, Tim Karr with the freepress.net. He received, what, one over a million comments saying 'I want net neutrality'?
Tim Karr: Actually the proceeding on net neutrality at FCC, they received nearly four million comments.
Thom Hartmann: Four million. OK. So, Ajit Pai is not doing that. He's not asking for comments. He's not doing it in a transparent and small D democratic way. He's simply basically ruling by decree. What are the odds that he's going to just strike down Title II and just say, okay, that's it, end of conversation? And is there anything we can do?
Tim Karr: Well, it's going to be more difficult for him to do that because the rule that we won was challenged by the telcos in the court. We've won in the courts. We won at the FCC. It's based on congressional law that was bipartisan and passed, the Telecommunications Act of 1996. So he may try to rule by decree but in this case it's not going to be as easy. A more likely scenario would be that some of Trump's allies in Congress, the GOP-controlled Congress, will try to introduce legislation that would take away net neutrality protections. And that's a fight that we have to be ready for.
Thom Hartmann: And you know the banner they're going to use to do that? 'Fake news, we've got to do something about fake news'.
Tim Karr: Well, yes, and I'm sure the legislation that they introduce will have a name like the "Internet Freedom Act".
Thom Hartmann: Right.
Tim Karr: They will have to put killing net neutrality in this type of jargon.
Thom Hartmann: Yeah. It's astonishing. So what, back to the question, we're talking Tim Karr freepress.net about what this whole thing with Internet, net neutrality. What can people who are watching or listening to this program right now do?
Tim Karr: Well, you can go to freepress.net, we have a lot of actions for people who have been very active, we've already been working on this issue for 10 years.
Thom Hartmann: I know.
Tim Karr: We have a base of about a million people there. We're very active and whenever a threat comes up like this we will send emails and give them all sorts of tools that they can contact their members of Congress or go to the FCC or even organize when they're within their own communities to build strong local support for net neutrality.
Thom Hartmann: Is now the time to be doing that or do we wait until Ajit Pai does something even more outrageous?
Tim Karr: Well you can go to freepress.net at any time, obviously, and there are ways you can sign up there if you want to be notified when those moments occur.
Thom Hartmann: Sure.
Tim Karr: And they will undoubtedly come. You know, we'll have your name, we'll have your email. We won't bombard you with emails but we will let you know when the time is right to act.
Thom Hartmann: Sounds like a plan. Tim Karr, senior director of strategy at Free Press and the Free Press Action Fund, freepress.net is the website. You can tweet him at @TimKarr or @freepress. Tim, thanks for being with us today.
Tim Karr: My pleasure, thank you.
Thom Hartmann: Great talking with you.
Transcribed by Sue Nethercott.