Pai: Apple Promoting Online Censorship

Edge providers need more disinfecting 'sunlight,' FCC chair says in op ed

FCC chair Ajit Pai suggested the parade of horribles whipped up by foes of his network-neutrality rules rollback order is just meant to feed into a false narrative, and that the real story is that edge providers are a bigger threat to an open internet than ISPs and could use some of the transparency the FCC will be requiring of ISPs.

Pai got specific in a Dec. 5 op ed in conservative newspaper The Washington Times.

He suggested that Apple was sending coded messages to China about censoring content.

"[J]ust this weekend, Apple’s chief executive [Tim Cook] gave a keynote address at the World internet Conference in China," Pai wrote. "That gathering promotes China’s vision of government censorship of the internet. What did he say there? Among other things: 'We are proud to have worked alongside many of our partners in China to help build a community that will join a common future in cyberspace.' That is code for a censored internet. And it should alarm anyone who believes in internet freedom."

An Apple spokesperson was not available at press time for comment on Pai's characterization of Cook's address.

"Some have tried to whip Americans into a frenzy by making outlandish claims," Pai wrote in the op ed. "Feeding the hysteria are silly accusations that the plan will 'end the internet as we know it' or threaten American democracy itself.

"These claims obscure a pretty mundane truth: This plan would simply restore the successful, light-touch regulatory framework that governed the internet from 1996 to 2015," he said. "And importantly, it would get the government out of the business of micromanaging the internet."

Pai has been on something of a "light touch" tour in speeches and appearances to counter the net-neutrality activist narrative, as well as raising a heavier hand in the direction of Silicon Valley. His plan to remove most net-neutrality regulations on ISPs is scheduled to be voted Dec. 14.

Related: Pai Calls Twitter Bigger Threat to Open Internet Than ISPs

Pai has long argued that ISPs were unfairly singled out as gatekeepers in an internet ecosystem that included massively powerful edge players. He said in the op ed it is false to suggest that Title II-based regs, which he labeled the Obama FCC rules, are necessary.

He reiterated his theory of why edge providers like Google and Amazon generally support net-neutrality regs: "Saddling internet service providers with tougher regulations than apply to themselves helps them cement their dominance over the internet economy."

He called that regulatory arbitrage that was not in the public interest and reiterated, as he said in a speech about edge prpviders last week, that "large Silicon Valley platforms today pose a far greater threat to a free and open internet than do internet service providers."

His other illustrations of that point included that Twitter did not allow House Communications Subcommittee chair Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) to promote her Senate campign video because of a pro-life message, and YouTube restricted access to video from some conservative commentators.

Tension is growing in Washington between the pressure not to censor online content and for social media to better police content for inappropriate content like hate speech, terrorist recruitment or sex solicitation.

"If these companies are truly committed to an open internet where Americans can freely access the content of their choice, like I am, it’s curious that they focus on unnecessary and harmful regulation of other parts of the internet ecosystem with little history of engaging in this kind of behavior," Pai said.

The centerpiece of Pai's new regulatory proposal is removing regs; boosting ISP transparency about what they are doing -- paid prioritization, or blocking or throttling, though ISPs have pledged they won't do the last two; and having the Federal Trade Commission hold them to those promises with the Justice Department backstopping any anticompetitive conduct.

He said Silicon Valley could use some similarly disinfecting sunlight.

"Right now, consumers are largely left in the dark when it comes to how these companies determine what American consumers see in their newsfeeds or search results," he said. "For example, these platforms could be using algorithms that favor content with certain viewpoints, and their users would have no way of knowing that they were being manipulated in this way. Is this a problem that needs to be addressed, and if so, how? I don’t claim to have all of the answers, but I do think these are questions worth raising.

"So as we think about internet policy, we should look at the entire internet economy — not single out one part of it," he added.