from the hands-off-my-interwebs dept.
Federal Communications Commission (FCC) member Ajit Pai said over the weekend that he foresees a future in which federal regulators will seek to regulate websites based on political content, using the power of the FCC or Federal Elections Commission (FEC). He also revealed that his opposition to "net neutrality" regulations had resulted in personal harassment and threats to his family.
Pai, one of two Republicans on the five-member FCC, has been an outspoken critic of net neutrality regulations passed by the agency on Feb. 6. The rules, which are set to take effect on June 12, reclassify Internet providers as utilities and command them not to block or "throttle" online traffic.
However, Pai said it was only the beginning. In the future, he said, "I could easily see this migrating over to the direction of content... What you're seeing now is an impulse not just to regulate the roads over which traffic goes, but the traffic itself."
"Is it unthinkable that some government agency would say the marketplace of ideas is too fraught with dissonance? That everything from the Drudge Report to Fox News... is playing unfairly in the online political speech sandbox? I don't think so," Pai said.
That in contrast to a Department of Defense article here in which the Pentagon's chief spokesman admitted, "When bad things happen, the American people should hear it from us, not as a scoop on the Drudge Report."
The Drudge Report is singled out as an example in both articles, but such changes have the potential to affect all political speech online, some people believe. As for Pai's point of view, is it valid, or is it partisan sour-grapes fearmongering?
Federal Election Commissioner (FEC) Lee Goodman, who worked to keep online political speech free of federal control, is planning to step down this year, saying that he believes the Internet "is a little bit freer and a little bit safer" than when he assumed his position:
"I know that I am looking to depart the agency sometime this year," [Goodman] said in an interview with The Hill. "I would expect a new cast of at least four commissioners, probably this year."
Goodman, a Republican who joined the agency in 2013, developed a reputation for speaking up when his Democratic colleagues voted to crack down on the Internet and the press. Those included efforts to regulate websites like Twitter, Facebook, and the Drudge Report, and one attempt to punish Fox News over the criteria it used for including candidates in a Republican presidential debate.
Goodman said he believes the threat has subsided. This was due in part to President Trump's election as well as the fact that one of his Democratic colleagues, Commissioner Ann Ravel, stepped down at the end of February.