Chairman Ajit Pai argued that the controversy surrounding net neutrality is detracting from the issue of universal Internet access.
(TNS) — Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai told a Michigan audience Thursday that the controversy over the dismantling of federal net neutrality rules is distracting from "the issue of our time" - universal Internet access.
Pai, who was appointed by President Donald Trump in January 2017 and had previously served as FCC Commissioner, said during a forum hosted by the Mackinac Center in Lansing dubbed criticism of the administration's position on net neutrality as politically charged "apocalyptic rhetoric."
"That kind of misinformation is very pernicious and damaging to a core understanding of what's actually going on here," Pai said. "It's a complete distraction from the issue of our time."
The FCC voted to repeal net neutrality rules - enacted under President Barack Obama's administration to prevent companies from tampering with Internet speeds across different websites - in 2017, and the rules went into effect in June.
The move was controversial, with many critics arguing the rule change could allow companies to charge more for or block access to certain content. The state of California recently passed legislation to restore the repealed net neutrality rules, something Pai believes is not in state government purview: "You need to have a consistent policy when you have something like the Internet," he said.
Pai said Thursday that "we weren't living in an Internet hellscape" prior to the Obama administration's net neutrality rules. He argued some implementations of prioritizing one website over another is not a bad thing, using an emergency scenario or telemedicine operations as examples.
"We can't say for all time in the abstract that every single one of these arrangements is bad," he said.
Pai said he is more concerned with "leaving millions of Americans on the wrong side of the digital divide" when it comes to broadband access, particularly in rural areas.
"Everyone who wants it should have Internet," he said. "I wish we could focus on what we could all agree on."
In Michigan, about 381,000 households in the state that don't have access to fixed broadband Internet, defined as a connection with download speeds of 25 megabits per second and upload speeds of at least 3 megabits per second by the Federal Communications Commission. Of those, an estimated 368,000 are in rural areas.
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