GOP regulator warns net neutrality rules would embolden Cuba, China

Tough net neutrality regulations in the U.S. could embolden foreign leaders in North Korea, Iran and other authoritarian states to increase the grip on the Internet, one of the Federal Communications Commission’s five members warned on Wednesday.

Ajit Pai, one of the two Republicans on the FCC, told a tech industry event on Capitol Hill that other countries are likely to take cues from increasing regulatory control of Web access in the U.S.

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“If in the United States we adopt regulations that assert more government control over how the Internet operates ... it becomes a lot more difficult for us to go on the international stage and tell governments: ‘Look, we want you to keep your hands off the internet,’” he said.

“Even if the ideas aren’t completely identical, you can appreciate the optical difficult in trying to make that case," he added.

The attack comes as part of a broader case Pai is making against the new net neutrality rules, which would regulate not just the “last mile” of Internet access — which occurs between an individual Web user and their service provider such as Comcast or Time Warner Cable — but would also give the FCC new powers to police how companies transfer traffic on the back-end of the Internet.

Pai has said that the new plan recently unveiled by FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler “marks a monumental shift toward government control of the Internet.”

In the background, meanwhile, countries such as North Korea and Cuba are trying to exact more control of the Internet through an arm of the United Nations called the International Telecommunication Union, he warned.

Nations such as Turkey and China are also enacting new controls in their own countries and “testing the waters to see how much they can get away with,” Pai said.

“I think the U.S.-based system of Internet governance has served us very well and I hope we don’t do anything to jeopardize that in the near future.”

Wheeler and supporters of the new plan have contested Pai’s characterization and reiterated that the rules govern Internet service providers, not the Internet itself.

“Chairman Wheeler’s proposed open Internet rules strengthen core democratic values online,” an FCC spokesman told The Hill in an email. “The proposal prevents cable and wireless companies who provide access to the Internet from acting as gatekeepers, ensuring the Internet remains an open platform for free speech and expression for all Americans.”

 

Updated at 6:08 p.m.