Ajit Pai found himself under the spotlight on Monday, as he was forced to defend the Federal Communications Commission’s decision to repeal net neutrality laws live on stage at Barcelona’s Mobile World Congress. The chairman claimed that history would look kindly on his initiative, predicting a huge increase in investment.
“Companies that started off very small like Facebook, Amazon, Netflix and Google became worldwide players precisely because we had a market-based approach that encouraged worldwide investment, as well as innovation on the edge,” Pai told the audience.
It was a far cry from Pai’s appearance at the Conservative Political Action Conference last week, where he found a much more receptive audience to the idea of repealing Title II regulations introduced under the Obama administration. There, he was able to claim that repeal would help the United States “recognize the human capital that resides in every single one of our hearts.”
Kristie Lu Stout, who moderated Monday’s panel entitled “The Future Of The Industry: Transatlantic Digital Policy And Regulation,” responded that history is also shaped by public opinion, and it may not favor repeal.
“I would hope that public opinion over time is based more on facts and less on public relations campaigns,” Pai said, recognizing the mass pro-net neutrality action that drew attention to his background as a former Verizon lawyer.
“Or the fact that people believe it will stifle innovation?” Lu Stout said.
“I think past is prologue here,” Pai said. “Just as the Internet hasn’t ended in the two months since we adopted our decision, we are going to see a massive investment increase, innovation and investment, and I’m confident consumers and the entire internet economy will benefit.”
Although proponents of repeal argue that investment dropped in the three years Title II regulations treated the internet as a utility, the reality is far from clear. In fact, data from U.S. Telecom shows that while investment did drop over that time, when zoomed out the data shows expenditure has remained largely flat:
In his closing remarks, Pai said that what consumers want first and foremost is good, fast and cheap internet access.
“I hope the regulators the world over will take a careful look at calibrating the regulations to obviously protect consumers, and to protect investments so that everyone can benefit from the digital revolution,” Pai said.
The new rules on internet regulation are set to come into effect April 23, but campaigners are optimistic they can pressure Congress to pass a Congressional Review Act to help restore the regulation. The plan depends on President Donald Trump not using his veto, and until now he’s supported Pai’s initiative. Nonetheless, demonstrations are planned across the country to push for change.