While participating in a panel discussion at the annual “Right Online” conference in Washington, D.C., FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai said it’s conceivable the federal government may come after conservative or libertarian-leaning websites, CNS News reported Monday. One site specifically mentioned was the Drudge Report, one of the most popular websites on the Internet.
He also said opposition to net neutrality has resulted in personal harassment and threats to his family. “I can tell you it has not been an easy couple of months personally,” he said. “My address has been publicly released. My wife’s name, my kids’ names, my kids’ birthdays, my phone number, all kinds of threats [have come] online.”
Pai is one of the only two Republicans on the five-member panel. The new rules regulating the Internet as a utility, passed on February 26 and takes effect on June 12. But Pai warns that content could also be regulated.
“I could easily see this migrating over to the direction of content,” he said. “What you’re seeing now is an impulse not just to regulate the roads over which traffic goes, but the traffic itself.”
“It is conceivable to me to see the government saying, ‘We think the Drudge Report is having a disproportionate effect on our political discourse. He doesn’t have to file anything with the FEC. The FCC doesn’t have the ability to regulate anything he says, and we want to start tamping down on websites like that,’” he added. “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 noted that a growing number of Americans and regulators in Washington are seeing online speech as something that must be regulated. Naturally, the targets are primarily conservative.
It’s not the first time Pai has warned of such regulation. In an op-ed published by Politico in February, Pai and Lee Goodman, the other Republican commissioner on the FCC board warned the government could regulate content on what has so-far been a free and open medium.
In 2006, they said, “the FEC adopted a regulation that protected the right of people and groups to disseminate political commentary online free from regulation. Specifically, the 2006 rule exempted from regulation all political commentary that citizens and groups post online for free, including on websites, blogs and social media platforms.” But things changed when Barack Obama became president.
“The bottom line is that Internet freedom works,” they said in their op-ed. “It is difficult to imagine where we would be today had the government micromanaged the Internet for the past two decades as it does Amtrak and the U.S. Postal Service.” Given the government’s record so far, it’s conceivable that websites like this one could easily be targeted and shut down by federal regulators in the hopes of ensuring that only one political view is presented to the public.
“Let’s leave the power where it belongs — with the American people,” they added. “When it comes to Americans’ ability to access online content or offer political speech online, there isn’t anything broken for the government to ‘fix.’ To paraphrase President Ronald Reagan, Internet regulation isn’t the solution to a problem. Internet regulation is the problem.”
Originally published on examiner.com