FCC Chairman Ajit Pai told Newsmax TV on Wednesday proposed rules changes governing Internet access and abolishing Obama-era regulations known as "net neutrality" will help open competition across the web.
Pai also said he told President Donald Trump his focus at the Commission "is going to be creating an environment in which competition and infrastructure investment can thrive because ultimately a competitive marketplace is something that benefits everybody especially in the internet economy."
The FCC's "net neutrality" rules have allowed the agency to regulate the Internet like a utility company and sought to prevent large broadband service providers like Comcast, Charter, Verizon, and AT&T from giving special treatment to certain kinds of content or penalizing online services like Netflix.
Pai, 44, who was appointed as a Republican to the Commission in 2012 and named chairman by President Trump this year, announced last month the 2015 neutrality restrictions would be rolled back.
But a growing number of conservative and liberal critics suggest the wholesale elimination of the neutrality rules could allow broadband providers to limit bandwidth for sites they do not like.
Pai was asked about the recent statement from telecommunications attorney David Goodfriend, a Democrat who announced he would be happy if an Internet provider like Comcast limited access to alt-right site Breitbart under Pai's rule changes.
"It's a completely absurd proposition," Pai responded to host Steve Malzberg. "Past is prologue here. Prior to 2015 we did not see internet service providers blocking access to lawful content including conservative websites. It's frankly sad that people who are ideologically vested in government regulation of the Internet feel the need to come up with these hysterical claims."
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Still, Goodfriend argues, without the neutrality regulations, nothing would prevent a major service provider from limiting access to any site they choose, liberal, or conservative.
Other potential losers if net neutrality rules are removed could be emerging OTT services that provide streaming video, like Hulu, Sling, and other channel providers. New entrants to the market could be subject to significant financial barriers from ISPs to gain access to Internet bandwidth.
Supporters of keeping some form of the neutrality rules say Pai's claim of an open and competitive internet is wishful thinking, noting just two cable companies provide more than 70 percent of the U.S. bandwidth market share.
Pai also also defended the FCC's April decision that allows television groups break the long-time "cap" on ownership. The old rule prevented a broadcaster to own no more than 39 percent of the U.S. market. Under the revised rule, owners can "discount" or reduce their audience size for some stations, increasing their national reach.
"So, all we did was turn back to the status quo as of 2015 and say let's take a fresh look at this, and figure out what the national ownership cap should be," Pai said. "Then make a market-based judgement accordingly, instead of preemptively regulating it and causing a problem in court."
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