Statement On The Nomination Of Ajit Pai To Be Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission

In 2015, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) did something that can be all too rare in Washington – it listened to the American people.  After a record number of Americans spoke in favor of clear rules to protect a free and open Internet, the FCC voted to adopt strong net neutrality protections that accomplished this goal.  These protections, which ensure that innovation and free speech can flourish online, are currently under threat as the FCC now moves to repeal them.  On net neutrality and on many other key telecommunications policy issues, Chairman Pai has stood against consumers, startups, and small businesses.  But today, I choose to stand with them and with millions of Americans who support net neutrality by opposing his reappointment.

Vermonters have been clear that they want strong FCC rules in place to ensure that the Internet remains the ultimate platform for economic opportunity and free expression.  These protections are particularly important for small businesses, which compete on the Internet’s global stage against the largest companies in the world.  The Vermont Country Store is a great example of a small company that has taken advantage of the promise of an open Internet.  Family-owned with a rich history dating back to 1897, the internet offered new opportunities to extend the company’s reach.  As 5th generation storekeeper Cabot Orton said when he testified in Vermont about the FCC’s effort to craft net neutrality protections in 2014:

“We don’t want to imagine an America with two Internets: a fast one for giant corporations and a slow one for everybody else. We don’t want to imagine being held for ransom by telecom behemoths and cable monopolies just to reach our customers with the same speed and convenience that global conglomerates enjoy… A small business website that is no longer protected from giant Internet toll-keepers would have one choice: pay to play. Failing that, a company becomes the proverbial tree falling in the forest with no one there to hear it.”

Chairman Pai has shown total disregard for the concerns of businesses like the Vermont Country Store.  In proposing to repeal the existing net neutrality protections, he makes no mention of their importance to the small business community.  Instead of recognizing the very real impact that on small businesses of stripping away these protections, Chairman Pai claims that there are no possible harms these protections could be designed to prevent. 

This is particularly clear when he discusses the current rule banning harmful paid prioritization agreements that would create the type of two-tiered Internet small businesses fear.  Chairman Pai claims that there was no need for this rule because some large internet service providers (ISPs) said they “had no plans” to engage in this kind of behavior.  This is despite the fact that at least one major ISP said outright in its 2014 FCC filing that it wanted the “flexibility” to charge websites for priority access and that even though it had no plans for these arrangements, they “should be permissible and should be tested.” 

I introduced legislation to ban pay-to-play deals online before the FCC adopted its rule because of the harm they would cause small businesses like the Vermont Country Store.  I find Chairman Pai’s failure to understand the importance of a level playing field for small businesses extremely disconcerting.

Not only is Chairman Pai ignoring the small business community by barreling ahead to repeal net neutrality protections, he is also ignoring the clear will of the American people.  Over 22 million Americans have submitted comments in the proceeding he started to repeal these critical protections, shattering records at the FCC.  Poll after poll has found overwhelming bipartisan support for net neutrality.  In Washington, Chairman Pai calls net neutrality protections burdensome and unnecessary.  In Vermont, we just call them common sense.

Vermonters also value their privacy rights and want basic protections in place to protect their personal data.  In 2016, over Chairman Pai’s objections, the FCC put in place important privacy protections to prevent ISPs from selling their sensitive information – including their web browsing history -- without their consent.  These rules also included basic data security and data breach notification requirements.  We’ve seen how important it is to hold companies to basic data security and breach notification standards in the wake of the total disregard Equifax showed for protecting sensitive consumer information.

Unfortunately, Chairman Pai was a strong supporter of the resolution of disapproval passed by this Congress that permanently repealed the FCC’s privacy and data security protections.  At a time when the personal information of every single American is under constant threat, Chairman Pai thought it was simply too much to ask for ISPs to take reasonable steps to secure their subscribers data and notify them if a breach occurs.

Chairman Pai’s approach to rural broadband, which is one of the most pressing issues for Vermonters, also raises cause for concern.  Just recently, he has proposed to effectively lower the speed standard used to measure whether Americans have access to adequate broadband service.  As someone who represents a rural state, ensuring that we accurately measure how many Americans lack this essential service is critical.  Under the current standard set by the previous FCC, 39 percent of rural Americans lack access to true high-speed broadband service.  In contrast, only four percent of urban Americans lack access. 

I supported the FCC’s decision to set a high minimum broadband speed to use as the baseline for comparing rural and urban areas.  All Americans deserve the same quality of broadband service, whether they live in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont or the heart of Kansas City.  Rural Americans should not be held to a lower standard simply so that Chairman Pai can rig the numbers to falsely claim that he’s closed the digital divide once and for all.

Chairman Pai has shown far too often in his time at the FCC that he will side with Goliath over David and that he will ignore the overwhelming sentiment of the American people.  With the fate of the open internet and many other critical telecommunications issues at stake, I must oppose Chairman Pai’s nomination. 

Press Contact

David Carle: 202-224-3693