MEET THE INDIAN-AMERICAN AT CENTRE OF US MOVE TO REPEAL NET NEUTRALITY RULES

The article originally appeared on India Today on 15 December.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the telecom regulator of the United States of America, has repealed a landmark law the country passed in 2015 to ensure net neutrality in the US and Ajit Pai, a son of immigrant Indians, is at the centre of the debate. He heads the US FCC.

Pai is a Republican, the same party as American President Donald J Trump, and was made the FCC chief in January 2017, the same month the Trump administration took over the White House.

The FCC, the US equivalent of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), has voted in favour of repealing a 2015 law enacted by itself under the Barack Obama government. The FCC is overseen by the US Congressional chairs and currently, like the US Congress (the American equivalent of Parliament), the Republicans are in majority in the FCC, a fact that helped the proposal moved by Pai score a 3-2 victory. Incidentally, Ajit Pai was appointed a commissioner in the FCC in 2012 by then president Barack Obama.

The move by Pai, whose FCC bio states that “consumers benefit most from competition, not pre-emptive regulation and regulators should be skeptical (sic) of pleas to regulate rivals”, has sharply divided America with critics saying repealing the net neutrality law will kill the spirit of free internet.

Critics argue that the repeal plan will benefit only few big telecom players who wield immense power over the flow of internet and telecommunication channels. Opponents of the repeal bill, named Restoring Internet Freedom Order, say it will effectively shut down or marginalise small players and will start a rush of predatory discriminating practices where one telecom company will try all to disadvantage a rival company’s data flowing through its cables.

And above all, internet users will be the ultimate losers with their freedom to get unrestrained access to all content and data gone, the critics add. Net neutrality, they say, ensures that no service provider will speed up or throttle a particular service because of its business interests.

IN INDIA

India has also been through this important debate. The country saw a major controversy over services such as Facebook’s Free Basics and Airtel Zero plans. These differential pricing plans were alleged to be discriminatory in nature as they would have given preferential treatment to content and data of a particiular telecom company or internet service provider (ISP).

Citizens here were up in arms over this and a public outcry forced the government and the TRAI to initiate consultations on building a framework to ensure net neutrality in the Indian market. And, its outcome has been positive so far with TRAI vouching to uphold the principles of net neutrality in recommendations it released last month.

Ajit Pai’s move is threatening to undo that in America, the world’s largest free market for the internet. Pai’s move has also unnerved the internet’s founding fathers Tim Berners-Lee and Vinton Cerf and many other internet pioneers including Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak and Mozilla’s Mitchell Baker.

They wrote an open letter to US Congress calling on it to cancel the proposed vote yesterday. They called the repeal plan flawed and an imminent threat to the internet.

But Pai was unnerved. He tweeted this morning to let the world know that there would be no change in his plans, “U.S. @SenateMajLdr supports @FCC plan to restore Internet freedom, saying our Internet economy is the “direct result of a bipartisan desire to create an environment of advancement-one that utilized a light regulatory touch.”

Ajit Pai’s parents were doctors. His mother was from Karnataka and father from Andhra Pradesh. They migrated to America where Pai was born in 1973 in Buffalo, New York.

A graduate from Harvard and University of Chicago Law School, Pai’s law career includes assignments mostly with the US judicial services and the US Congress in difference capacities as well as stints with private corporations like Verizon Jenner & Block.

©SantoshChaubey

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AJIT PAI, SON OF IMMIGRANT INDIANS, IS AT THE CENTRE OF US NET NEUTRALITY DEBATE

Ajit Pai, son of immigrant Indians, is at the centre of the raging net neutrality debate in the United States. He heads the US body which regulates the internet in America, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). He is a Republican and was made the FCC chief in January 2017, the same month the Trump Government was inaugurated in the White House.

The FCC, the US equivalent of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), is bringing a proposal to repeal a 2015 law enacted by it under the Barack Obama Government. The FCC is overseen by US Congressional chairs. The repeal plan is slated for voting today and analysts have projected that it would be approved. Incidentally, Ajit Pai was appointed a commissioner in the FCC in 2012 by Barack Obama only.

The move by Pai, whose FCC bio* states that “consumers benefit most from competition, not pre-emptive regulation and regulators should be skeptical of pleas to regulate rivals”, has sharply divided America with critics saying it will kill the spirit of free internet. Critics argue that the repeal plan will benefit only few big telecom players who wield immense power over the flow of internet and telecommunication channels. The repeal bill, Restoring Internet Freedom Order, will effectively shut down or marginalize small players and will start a rush of predatory discriminating practices where one telecom company will try all to discredit its rival company’s data flowing through its cables.

And above all, the people will be the ultimate losers with their freedom to get unrestrained access to every content and data gone, something that is at the heart of net neutrality which aims to ensure level playing field for every content, every data flowing through communication channels, be it by the world’s largest service provide or a start-up.

India has also been through this important debate. We should not forget the controversy generated by moves like Facebook’s Free Basics and Airtel Zero plans. These differential pricing plans were discriminatory in nature as they would have given preferential treatment to content and data of one telecom company or internet service provider (ISP) over the other. People were naturally outraged at this and their mobilization forced the government and the TRAI to initiate consultations to build a framework to ensure net neutrality in the Indian market. And its outcome has been positive so far with TRAI vouching to uphold the principal of net neutrality in India in its final recommendations on the issue that came out last month.

But Ajit Pai’s may undo all that in America, the world’s largest free market for the internet, and a sort of role-model for the world. And Pai’s move is supported by a lobby of few powerful companies including Verizon, one of America’s biggest telecom services providers and Pai’s former employer, as many media reports* suggest. A Guardian report* writes that Pai is adamant to move ahead with his repeal plan in spite of “members of the public across the political spectrum, be it Democrats or Republicans, supporting the net neutrality rules as revealed in the many polls*.”

Pai’s move has also unnerved the Internet’s founding fathers* Tim Berners-Lee and Vinton Cerf and many other internet pioneers including Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak and Mozilla’s Mitchell Baker. They have written an open letter to the US Congress calling on it to cancel the proposed vote today calling Pai’s repeal plan flawed and an imminent threat to the Internet. But Pai, too, is unnerved. He tweeted this morning to let the world know that there would be no change in his plans, “U.S. @SenateMajLdr supports @FCC plan to restore Internet freedom, saying our Internet economy is the “direct result of a bipartisan desire to create an environment of advancement–one that utilized a light regulatory touch.”

Ajit Pai’s parents were doctors. His mother was from Karnataka and father from Andhra Pradesh. They migrated to America where Pai was born in 1973 in Buffalo, New York. A graduate from Harvard and University of Chicago Law School, Pai’s law career includes assignments mostly with the US judicial services and the US Congress in difference capacities as well as stints with private corporations like Verizon Jenner & Block.

©SantoshChaubey

INTERNET’S FOUNDING FATHERS CALL ON US CONGRESS TO SAVE INTERNET FROM TRUMP’S MAN

The article originally appeared on India Today.

Tim Berners-Lee and Vinton Cerf, the founding fathers of the Internet, have written to the US Congress to save the Internet from the disastrous consequences of a proposed repeal of a Barack Obama era law on net neutrality that ensured level playing field for all content and every sort of data by ensuring stiff regulations for the Internet service providers (ISPs).

The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC), under the Barack Obama presidency, had adopted the net neutrality rules in February 2015 and enacted it in a law in June that year. The law gave the US government sweeping power over the network providers to check the discriminatory practices with the content flowing through their channels.

Here, in India, we are going through the grinding of that process and thankfully, after over a year of consultation papers, public comments and meetings, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) last month decided to uphold the supremacy of net neutrality in India.

Now Ajit Pai, son of Indian immigrants and a Republican, who was made the FCC chief by US President Donald Trump in January 2017, is bringing a repeal proposal to that landmark law which is scheduled for voting on December 14.

But the reports that the proposed repeal plan is expected to be approved have worried the proponents of a free internet accessible for all, and the letter by the founding fathers of the Internet reflects that sentiment.

The letter addressed to the Democratic and Republican chairs that control the FCC says that “the FCC’s proposed order is based on a flawed and factually inaccurate understanding of Internet technology” terming the proposed Restoring Internet Freedom Order an imminent threat to the Internet, “The FCC’s rushed and technically incorrect proposed order to repeal net neutrality protections without any replacement is an imminent threat to the Internet we worked so hard to create. It should be stopped.”

The letter has urged to US lawmakers to cancel the proposed vote. The open letter that is signed by 19 other internet pioneers including Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, Mozilla’s Mitchell Baker and Internet Achieves founder Brewster Kahle, alleges the FCC headed by Pai is acting in haste ignoring exerts’ comments, over 23 million pro net neutrality comments by public and against the established practice, has not held even a single public meeting to discuss its proposed repeal order.

The open letter also alleges that the FCC didn’t bother to investigate and explain to people the flaws of its online comment system “including bot-generated comments that impersonated Americans, including dead people, and an unexplained outage of the FCC’s on-line comment system that occurred at the very moment TV host John Oliver was encouraging Americans to submit comments to the system.”

BELOW IS THE TEXT OF THE OPEN LETTER SIGNED BY THE INTERNET’S FOUNDING FATHERS AND PIONEERS:

We are the pioneers and technologists who created and now operate the Internet, and some of the innovators and business people who, like many others, depend on it for our livelihood. We are writing to respectfully urge you to call on FCC Chairman Ajit Pai to cancel the December 14 vote on the FCC’s proposed Restoring Internet Freedom Order (WC Docket No. 17-108 ).

This proposed Order would repeal key network neutrality protections that prevent Internet access providers from blocking content, websites and applications, slowing or speeding up services or classes of service, and charging online services for access or fast lanes to Internet access providers’ customers. The proposed Order would also repeal oversight over other unreasonable discrimination and unreasonable practices, and over interconnection with last-mile Internet access providers. The proposed Order removes long-standing FCC oversight over Internet access providers without an adequate replacement to protect consumers, free markets and online innovation.

It is important to understand that the FCC’s proposed Order is based on a flawed and factually inaccurate understanding of Internet technology. These flaws and inaccuracies were documented in detail in a 43-page-long joint comment signed by over 200 of the most prominent Internet pioneers and engineers and submitted to the FCC on July 17, 2017. Despite this comment, the FCC did not correct its misunderstandings, but instead premised the proposed Order on the very technical flaws the comment explained. The technically-incorrect proposed Order dismantles 15 years of targeted oversight from both Republican and Democratic FCC chairs, who understood the threats that Internet access providers could pose to open markets on the Internet.

The experts’ comment was not the only one the FCC ignored. Over 23 million comments have been submitted by a public that is clearly passionate about protecting the Internet. The FCC could not possibly have considered these adequately.

Indeed, breaking with established practice, the FCC has not held a single open public meeting to hear from citizens and experts about the proposed Order.

Furthermore, the FCC’s online comment system has been plagued by major problems that the FCC has not had time to investigate. These include bot-generated comments that impersonated Americans, including dead people, and an unexplained outage of the FCC’s on-line comment system that occurred at the very moment TV host John Oliver was encouraging Americans to submit comments to the system.

Compounding our concern, the FCC has failed to respond to Freedom of Information Act requests about these incidents and failed to provide information to a New York State Attorney General’s investigation of them. We therefore call on you to urge FCC Chairman Pai to cancel the FCC’s vote. The FCC’s rushed and technically incorrect proposed Order to abolish net neutrality protections without any replacement is an imminent threat to the Internet we worked so hard to create. It should be stopped.

Signed,

Frederick J. Baker, IETF Chair 1996-2001, ISOC Board Chair 2002-2006
Mitchell Baker, Executive Chairwoman, Mozilla Foundation
Steven M. Bellovin, Internet pioneer, FTC Chief Technologist, 2012-2013
Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web & professor, MIT
John Borthwick, CEO, Betaworks
Scott O. Bradner, Internet pioneer
Vinton G. Cerf, Internet pioneer
Stephen D. Crocker, Internet pioneer
Whitfield Diffie, inventor of public-key cryptography
David J. Farber, Internet pioneer, FCC Chief Technologist 1999-2000
Dewayne Hendricks, CEO Tetherless Access
Martin E. Hellman, Internet security pioneer
Brewster Kahle, Internet pioneer, founder, Internet Archive
Susan Landau, cybersecurity expert & professor, Tufts University
Theodor Holm Nelson, hypertext pioneer
David P. Reed, Internet pioneer
Jennifer Rexford, Chair of Computer Science, Princeton University
Ronald L. Rivest, co-inventor of RSA public-key encryption algorithm
Paul Vixie, Internet pioneer
Stephen Wolff, Internet pioneer
Steve Wozniak, co-founder, Apple Computer

©SantoshChaubey