Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai before speaking at an internet regulation event at the Newseum April 26, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Eric Thayer/Getty Images)
Snapshot
  • The champions of net neutrality seem to believe that having discriminatory or preferential pricing is somehow a subversion of internet freedom, but that is hardly the case.

United States Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chairman Ajit Pai has come under intense criticism after he revealed his plan to end the so-called “net neutrality” rules put in place by former president Barack Obama in 2015. Pai argues that under his plan, “the federal government will stop micromanaging the internet. Instead, the FCC would simply require internet service providers to be transparent about their practices so that consumers can buy the service plan that’s best for them.”

In Wall Street Journal (WSJ), Pai wrote recently, “As millions flocked to the web for the first time in the 1990s, President Clinton and a Republican Congress decided “to preserve the vibrant and competitive free market that presently exists for the Internet.” In the Telecommunications Act of 1996, the government called for an internet ‘unfettered by Federal or State regulation. The result of that fateful decision was the greatest free-market success story in history.”

“But that changed in 2014. Just days after a poor midterm election result, President Obama publicly pressured the Federal Communications Commission to reject the longstanding consensus on a market-based approach to the internet. He instead urged the agency to impose upon internet service providers a creaky regulatory framework called “Title II,” which was designed in the 1930s to tame the Ma Bell telephone monopoly,” he added.

Conservative commentators are cheering the move by the FCC under Pai. “Internet socialism is dead. Long live market forces,” declared The American Conservative’s Jeffrey Tucker. “You might be able to pick among a range of packages, some minimalist and some maximalist, depending on how you use the service. Or you could choose a package that charges based only on what you consume, rather than sharing fees with everyone else,” he wrote.

However, the people on the other side of the aisle are lashing out at Pai for what they see as dismantling of equality and egalitarianism in the realm of internet. Most of the Hollywood celebrities who also happen to be “liberals” took to Twitter to speak out against Pai’s decision. Pai tried to calm their nerves with his own rebuttals, however, it is unlikely he would be able to convince them.

Replying to actor Kumail Nanjiani, who commented that if net neutrality rules were removed, “we will never go back to a free internet,” Pai said, “We had a free and open Internet for two decades before 2015 (when Obama changed the rules), and we’ll have a free and open Internet going forward.”

“By turning back time, so to speak, and returning Internet regulation to the pre-2015 era, we will expand broadband networks and bring high-speed Internet access to more Americans, not fewer,” he added.

Pai also responded to Mark Ruffalo’s tweet, the actor who plays Hulk in Marvel Studios movies. Ruffalo had tweeted that, “Taking away #NetNeutrality is the Authoritarian dream.” Pai contended this assertion saying that government control over the internet is exactly what authoritative states do, and relinquishing such power “is the exact opposite of authoritarianism.”

Many are not limiting their criticism to Pai’s position on the policies. In an interview recently, he said that his children were harassed. One cardboard sign at his home read: “They will come to know the truth. Dad murdered Democracy in cold blood.” In an article in The Washington Post about Pai, some comments were outright racist and personal. Many commentators said that since Pai’s actions stand to impact people in their homes, attacks on his family were fare game. “Don't want to be "harassed" at home? Don't do things that effect so many people's homes, doofus,” reads the most upvoted comment on this post in WaPo. Right below that comment is a racist attack on his Indian origin which reads, “Pai's father escaped the caste system in India to the US so that his son could create another caste system in the Internet for American people. How ironic.” Such type of attacks lay bare the sick racist mentality of self-professed liberals in America. One shudders to think of the situation in Bible belt.

The champions of net neutrality seem to believe that having discriminatory or preferential pricing is somehow a subversion of internet freedom. However, as Swarajya wrote last year, this is hardly the case: The fact is business, society and governments have to discriminate between customers if they have to be viable. They cannot price a product the same for all users, rich and poor. Consider how various businesses actually do this, and ask yourself if this is all that bad an idea. Airlines offer different seats at different prices, with the early birds getting it cheaper and the later ones at a higher cost. But towards the very end, prices may again fall as airlines cannot afford to fly with too many seats that have no “bums” on them.

The point, in short, is that free and differential pricing are central to all that we do as businesses, governments or a society.

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