President Donald Trump has appointed net neutrality opponent Ajit Pai as the new head of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the governing body of telecommunications issues in the United States.
The appointment has caused alarm among advocates of net neutrality and internet activists alike as Mr Pai and President Trump’s track record seems to suggest that abolishing net neutrality could be a shared goal.
Net neutrality, is the term given for the idea of equal access to the internet as opposed to internet service providers (ISP’s) being able to charge a premium in order to give certain websites access to “fast lanes” for larger data streams.
Many activists and companies, such as Google, are opposed to abolishing the concept as they believe it stifles competition and gives an unfair advantage to sites which have already established themselves. For instance, a new website wouldn’t be able to afford the faster service that someone such as Amazon Prime Video could utilise.
Republicans in the FCC and several larger telcom companies have traditionally tried to overturn the idea of net neutrality in favour of these paid “fast lanes” but have never had the numbers until now.
In 2015 during the Obama administration, amid public discussion, several laws were introduced to protect net neutrality and establish how the internet should be governed. Many of these laws gave hope to advocates of net neutrality and included rulings such as reclassifiying broadband as a telecommunications service and preventing ISP’s from blocking or speeding up connections for a fee.
Mr Pai stated that “During the Trump administration, we will shift from playing defense at the FCC to going on offense.”
“We need to fire up the weed whacker and remove those rules that are holding back investment, innovation, and job creation.” Statements like these have caused concern that the laws laid down by President Trump’s predecessor will soon come under attack.
Gary Griffiths, CEO of iPass the holder of the worlds largest Wi-Fi networks, said: “If there were any doubt, Pai’s appointment proves net neutrality is firmly in Trump’s crosshairs.”
“On the campaign trail, Trump was a vociferous opponent of net neutrality and has proceeded to staff his FCC transition with ardent net neutrality opponents such as Pai. One thing is for certain, the next four years promises to be a turbulent time for the open internet – which has never seen a threat quite like this.”