Sen. Wyden delivered the following speech on the Senate floor outlining his opposition to confirmation of Ajit Pai as FCC chairman.
I rise today in opposition to the President’s nomination of Ajit Pai to head the Federal Communications Commission.
Mr. Pai, has a long track record of putting big cable before consumers, big corporations above small businesses and pay-to-play over the free and open internet. Mr. Pai has betrayed the American consumer at every turn and has an agenda at the FCC that makes a mockery of the moniker: Independent Agency. He’s on the side of big cable and big business, and hasn’t done much of anything for the rest of us. For these reasons, I will vote NO on this nomination.
Here’s what’s at stake. Since the birth of the internet, its defining feature has been that all bits, all information, get equal access. No matter if you were a big company, or a mom-and-pop ice cream shop with a website, your content reached people’s homes at the same speed. We call that principle Net Neutrality. I introduced the first strong net neutrality bill in the Senate in 2006 because I recognized that without net neutrality the internet would not be a place of incredible opportunity for all, but would be a closed system of privilege for the few.
Since then, Net Neutrality has been the law of the land and our economy has grown up around this leading principle of equal access to information and customers.
Chairman Pai is working hard to dismantle the protections ensured by Net Neutrality. He said he wants to, quote “take a weed-whacker” to the strong, enforceable Net Neutrality rules. He’s planning to blow up the level playing field that is so crucial to innovation and free speech online, and that allows the startup trying to get out of the garage to become the next YouTube, Google or eBay.
It also prevents your internet service provider from favoring one type of content over another. Suppose, for a moment, your internet provider has a financial stake in a third-party content site, they could ensure that content comes to your home faster and clearer than its competitors, absent strong Net Neutrality protections. For example, AT&T could decide to provide quote-unquote “free data” for customers streaming HBO, causing more folks to subscribe to that service over their competitors, starving other creators of the subscribers necessary to create new and innovative content.
This even holds true for tele-health providers. Tele-health depends on reliable, fast and low-cost internet coverage to transmit critical health information — especially in rural and remote areas. For example, remote monitoring of blood glucose levels in diabetes patients. Net Neutrality prevents ISPs from viewing this life-saving service as a cash-cow — charging rural hospitals and community health centers a premium fee to deliver critical and timely health care services to patients.
Just two years ago, under the leadership of Chairman Wheeler, the FCC adopted a strong framework under Title II of the Communications Act that would make sure the FCC had the tools to protect the open internet. Let’s be clear, Chairman Wheeler, like Chairman Pai, also worked for industry for most of his career in Washington — but rather than serve his paymasters, Tom used that experience in how the companies operated and how they treated consumers to design constructive and effective consumer protections. True to form, Chairman Pai intends to roll back these rules and claims to be trying to fix a problem that doesn’t exist. We have strong Net Neutrality protections in place right now. Voting for Pai, is a vote to strike down vital consumer protections, which is a huge step backward for the internet.
Any talk of a voluntary solution to Net Neutrality is simply nonsense. Allowing an internet provider to voluntarily follow Net Neutrality protections, is like my nine year-old son voluntarily limiting himself to one dessert — it’s not going to happen!
Chairman Pai’s track record shows that he is not in the consumer’s corner, but in Big Cable’s pockets.
Last year, Chairman Wheeler and the FCC acted on the responsibility given to them by Congress to protect the browsing history, favorite applications, and even location of American broadband users from their ISP. During that vote, Mr. Pai voted no, clearly siding with Big Cable’s profits over American consumer’s privacy.
And during the August recess, Chairman Pai began an attempt to sneak through a proposal that would lower the acceptable standard speed of internet access in rural America. Mr. President, this is just wrong. The Congress mandated that the FCC expand access to high speed internet to every American, and Ajit Pai wants to say slower internet speeds is good enough. I travel to each county in Oregon every year, and have had over 850 town meetings. Rural Oregonians describe to me their frustrations with slow and unsatisfactory internet speeds. These communities tell me that they want faster internet so they can participate in the global economy and help their children with their homework.
Mr. President, Congress and the FCC should expand access to high speed internet to everyone, not tell rural America that what they have is good enough.
Mr. Pai has repeatedly failed to act, even in in the face of a clear danger to the security of Americans’ mobile phones. Despite years of warnings about well-known weaknesses in mobile phone networks, that allows hackers and spies to track Americans’ phones, intercept calls and messages, and hack the phones themselves, Mr. Pai has taken a hands-off attitude.
His FCC says it won’t force wireless carriers to fix these weakness, instead arguing that voluntary measures will be sufficient. I disagree — self-regulation has clearly failed. The FCC needs to force carriers to secure their networks and protect America’s critical communications infrastructure. His failure to act is a failure of leadership that makes Americans less safe.
In conclusion, Mr. President, it is clear that Net Neutrality has sparked the flames of innovation and commerce on the Internet. The Senate has the responsibility to make sure that those flames are not extinguished.
I will vote against the confirmation of Ajit Pai, and I will vote in favor of a truly free and open internet for all Americans. I encourage my colleagues to do the same. With that, Mr. President, I yield the floor.