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FCC chairman says net neutrality was a mistake

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He's ready to roll it back

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai speaks at Mobile World Congress 2017 in Barcelona, Spain.
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai speaks at Mobile World Congress 2017 in Barcelona, Spain.
Chris Welch / The Verge

FCC chairman Ajit Pai said today that net neutrality was “a mistake” and that the commission is now “on track” to return to a much lighter style of regulation.

“Our new approach injected tremendous uncertainty into the broadband market,” Pai said during a speech at Mobile World Congress this afternoon. “And uncertainty is the enemy of growth.”

Pai has long been opposed to net neutrality and voted against the proposal when it came up in 2015. While he hasn’t specifically stated that he plans to reverse the order now that he’s chairman, today’s speech suggests pretty clearly that he’s aiming to.

“Today, the torch at the FCC has been passed to a new generation, dedicated to renewal as well as change,” Pai said. “We are confident in the decades-long, cross-party consensus on light-touch internet regulation ... and we are on track to returning to that successful approach.”

Pai’s argument is that internet providers were doing just fine under the old rules and that the new ones have hurt investment. Both of those points are highly debatable — there’s little competition in the wired broadband market, and Consumerist investigated the investment claims in early 2016 and found that internet providers were estimated to spend more in the coming year.

As additional evidence that “light touch” regulation is working, Pai points to the commission’s approval of zero-rating schemes — this, he says, is exactly why all four carriers are now offering unlimited data plans.

Except this argument makes even less sense, because zero rating isn’t involved in these plans at all (aside from, in some cases, video compression). These companies are competing to offer highly competitive unlimited data plans because the last FCC chairman kept them in a competitive environment, leaving four nationwide wireless providers and a clear set of rules for them to follow.

But none of that really matters, since Pai’s general philosophy is that the commission shouldn’t involve itself with basically anything unless there’s a huge market failure (though it’s unclear what exactly he would consider to be a market failure). And he believes that competition can preserve an open internet even without rules.

“We know from two decades of experience that utility-style regulation is not necessary to achieving that goal,” he said today.

Pai has been chairman of the commission for just over a month now, and in that time, he’s already begun chipping away at net neutrality in a few different ways: approving zero rating, scaling back transparency rules, proposing to halt major new privacy requirements. After this speech today, it’s evident that Pai is just getting started.