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Blame FCC Chairman For Killing Net Neutrality, But Leave His Race Out Of It

Whether Ajit Pai's right or wrong, there's no excuse for racism or xenophobia.

12/15/2017 14:24 EST | Updated 12/15/2017 15:05 EST
Aaron Bernstein / Reuters
Chairman Ajit Pai speaks ahead of the vote on the repeal of so-called net neutrality rules at the Federal Communications Commission in Washington, D.C. on Dec. 14, 2017.

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) struck a massive blow against the essential nature of the internet — and handed a major victory to American internet service providers (ISPs) — with their vote to repeal net neutrality on Thursday.

The man who proposed the changes: Ajit Pai, the FCC's Trump-appointed chairman. In helping undo "Title II" regulations that classified the 'net as a public utility, Pai and his Republican buddies have forged a future in which American ISPs could feel free to block, throttle or prioritize traffic to internet services — you know, even if they say they won't.

(Also among these ISPs is Verizon, which owns Oath, HuffPost Canada's parent company.)

In the lead up to the vote, protests erupted online and across the States, calling on the commission to safeguard protections that many see as essential to the way the internet works. And they were right to do so — access to high-speed internet is a fundamental human right, as our country declared almost a year ago in the spirit of bridging inequalities.

But among the backlash to Pai's proposal to "increase competition" and "drive down prices" were a number of unacceptable comments related to his race, typically from individuals at the periphery of, or entirely outside, the largely progressive-led moment.

Kyle Grillot / Reuters
A net neutrality supporter protests the FCC's recent decision in Los Angeles, Ca. on Nov. 28, 2017.

This is particularly problematic, as Pai isn't just your garden-variety Republican hellbent on overturning Obama-era regulations on principle — he's one of American politics' most visible people of colour. What more, he is merely the face of a decision made on a systemic level.

Now, some of these comments may well be part of an FCC-orchestrated anti-PR push to make net neutrality advocates seem racist and unhinged, as TechDirt's Karl Bode suggests. But my gut tells me there are real people behind these scattered personal attacks. Whether Pai's right or wrong, there's no excuse for that. Humanity and decency shouldn't end at party lines.

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There's no room for mocking his Indian name — I'm looking at you, random HuffPost Canada commenter who inspired this missive.

There's no room for posting xenophobic obscenities to the FCC's website, either — just search "Ajit Pai" and the racist epithet of your choice if you want to lose your faith in humanity.

And, just as there's no room for questioning the Kansas native's American bona fides, there's no room in questioning the other half of his heritage, either.

As an immigrant who grew up laughing off xenophobic nicknames in the States, I applaud Pai for responding in good humour to tweets like, "Ajit Pai: Go back to Africa — were [sic] you came from" and "Do you even English, bro?" It's no easy feat. But Pai shouldn't have to laugh off comments like that in the first place.

So go ahead, despise Pai for helping sell humanity's crowning technological achievement out to corporate interests.

Despise Pai for the way he and his commission shrugged off hundreds of thousands of inconveniently legitimate comments opposing the repeal on the FCC website — and refused to help investigate the fakes and the frauds among them.

We'll need to save our energy for mitigating the potential damage of this move.

Despise Pai for not batting an eye at the millions of dollars ISPs throw at lawmakers in Congress — US$101 million and counting.

And definitely despise Pai for celebrating this potentially historical setback to democracy by donning a Santa costume and playing with a fidget spinner on YouTube.

Just leave his race out of it.

Besides, we'll need to save our energy for mitigating the potential damage of this move, both in America and in Canada, where our laws can still be strengthened to protect us from the same fate. And that won't be easy.

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