At a swanky Washington, DC dinner featuring telecom lobbyists and beltway journalists, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai ridiculed millions of net neutrality activists.
On December 14, the FCC is set to officially vote on whether or not to keep the internet open and free for all, or allow Internet Service Providers (ISPs) like Comcast, Verizon, AT&T, and Google to control the speed of websites and block content for users on a whim. Pai, a former lawyer for Verizon, is still close to his former employer, recently speaking at a private event held at Verizon’s Washington headquarters.
However, despite more than 23 million public comments submitted to the FCC by American internet users — the vast majority of which are in support of preserving net neutrality — Pai seemed to relish in the hatred Americans have for his proposed changes to a free and open internet at the annual Federal Communications Bar Association Dinner at the Washington, DC Hilton Thursday night.
As the Washington Post reported, Pai got big applause and laughs at self-deprecating jokes about his intentions to fundamentally change the internet as approximately 100 pro-net neutrality protesters stood in the cold outside of the posh hotel:
“First, I want to thank all of you for coming tonight,” [Pai] began. “After all, we only have seven more days to use the Internet,” he said, to big laughs and applause in the audience, referring to the Dec. 14 FCC meeting when he is expected to vote alongside his fellow Republican commissioners to repeal net neutrality. “You think I’m joking. It’s true. I read it on the Internet.”
Pai even made several gestures poking fun at the very real concerns net neutrality activists have about his closeness to the companies that stand to benefit most from the internet coming under the control of a small handful of ISPs. During one part of his monologue, he joked about President Trump’s tweets asking the FCC to revoke NBC’s broadcasting license.
“Of course this attempt to influence us was a nonstarter. Who do you think we are? Antitrust division?” Pai said to laughs and applause.
A video skit meant to depict Ajit Pai at Verizon’s offices in 2003, when he was associate general counsel for the telecoms giant, shows him hatching a plot with another Verizon employee to install himself as FCC chairman so the company can have a “Verizon puppet” in charge of the commission charged with regulating Verizon.
VERIZON EMPLOYEE: “As you know, the FCC is captured by the industry, but we think it’s not captured enough, so we have a plan.”
AJIT PAI: “What plan? What did you have in mind?”
VERIZON EMPLOYEE: “We want to brainwash and groom a Verizon puppet to install as FCC chairman. Think ‘Manchurian Candidate.’”
PAI: “That sounds awesome.”
See? It’s funny because that’s obviously not what’s happening right now.
Matthew P. Robbins is a freelance economics contributor covering wages, budgets, and taxes. He lives in Chicago, Illinois with his husband and two cats.