FCC’s Ajit Pai labels California net neutrality law 'illegal'

The guy who killed net neutrality didn’t expect California to practice democracy.

FCC head honcho, Ajit Pai, didn't mince words in comments regarding California's recent passing of a tough net neutrality bill. In his keynote speech for neoconservative policy organization Maine Heritage Policy Center, Pai called California's SB 822 "illegal" and said it "poses a risk to the rest of the country."

Pai also hinted that he'd be coming for California should SB 822, seen as the toughest net neutrality law in the nation, receive the governor's signature, as it's expected to in the next two weeks.

Suggesting that the FCC would pull federal rank over state's rights, he reminded his well-heeled audience: "In fact, just last week, the US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit reaffirmed the well-established law that state regulation of information services is preempted by federal law. Last December, the FCC made clear that broadband is just such an information service."

As many are aware, the FCC chief is responsible for ending true net neutrality in such a way that facilitated scenarios like the throttling of California firefighters while they fought life-threatening blazes. As we wrote, "The incident hampered a fire department's response to California wildfires" (and is now part of a net neutrality lawsuit). So for California, the issue of net neutrality is also personal.

The legislation's author, California Senator Scott Weiner, immediately fired back in a statement saying "Since the FCC says it no longer has any authority to protect an open Internet, it's also the case that the FCC lacks the legal power to preempt states from protecting their residents and economy."

The Senator added, "When Verizon was caught throttling the data connection of a wildfire-fighting crew in California, Chairman Pai said nothing and did nothing. That silence says far more than his words today."

What also speaks volumes is the context of Pai's remarks, and who he was addressing as he headlined a fundraiser for the Maine Heritage Policy Center. If you're unaware, the MHPC is behind a failed attempt to rig taxation to shrink public services in Maine, opposes universal health care, and argue that raising the minimum wage harms everyone. The MHPC is part of the State Policy Network, a coordinated network of ultra-conservative and libertarian policy groups.

The State Policy Network is sponsored by entities including The Koch Institute, Heritage Foundation (currently taking credit for the Kavanaugh nomination), "religious liberty" orgs Sutherland Institute and 1st Amendment Partnership, and Facebook. Yes, Facebook. Go ahead and set a reminder for the time you learned that Facebook sponsors a US state policy clearinghouse for turning conservative ideas (like "faith-based healthcare") into state laws.

A Guardian investigation concluded that State Policy Network is a "nexus of funding arrangements behind radical right-wing campaigns" with "members in each of the 50 states." As in, the Maine Heritage Policy Center.

Another proud sponsor is NCTA — The Internet & Television Association, one of the largest political lobbying organizations in the United States, and a very vocal opponent of net neutrality. Their board includes Comcast, Cox Communications, Viacom Inc., Vyve Broadband, Charter Communications, and other usual suspects.

So, if you're in the mindset that Ajit Pai might be doing fundraisers for organizations that have a vested interest in watching him wield the federal weight of the FCC against California's actually-legal state net neutrality laws, then you may be onto something.

Anyway, as they say about the devil, she lives in the details. You'd think that as a member of the Republican party, Pai would be all about California enacting its own "state's rights" — fully within its jurisdiction by means of interstate commerce enforcement.

Federal only supersedes state law on specific issues which the US Constitution delegates to the federal government. That's the Tenth Amendment. In this instance, the FCC can't just roll in and pull rank on California, no matter what Pai promises his right-wing, internet-carpetbagging cronies.

But maybe Pai just didn't expect California to call his bluff and actually practice democracy about net neutrality. Pai, the FCC chief who has displayed open contempt for the public by mocking net neutrality supporters (smirking and dancing with a Pizzagate loon). He's the guy we can credit for formalizing the ISP definition of "open internet" as a pay-for-play scenario in which ISPs and telcos can now shake down companies for cash in order for consumers to get access to their websites and services.

Not the open internet where every website, person, and small business has equal access to the internet. Just ask California's firefighters what it means. They, and California fire victims, found out in the worst way possible.

Senator Weiner directly addressed this when he responded to Pai. The Senator also said his bill is to cement that "we as individuals get to decide where we go on the Internet, rather than having Internet service providers decide for us," and that "big telecom and cable companies can't force us to get our information only from favored websites."

As the Senator put it, "SB 822 is necessary and legal because Chairman Pai abdicated his responsibility to ensure an open internet."

So much of the early, free, and truly open internet was a celebration because it was the opposite of what Pai and his cronies represent. Pai and his merry band of dinosaurs want nothing more than for things to go back to the way they were, when corporations controlled what we saw, when we saw it, as well as the messages media contained (and who was allowed representation). They may have the backing of the current administration and billion-dollar corporate darknets like Facebook, but they're in for a surprise.

As a native Californian (and native San Franciscan) I can tell you we're quite used to the likes of Pai and the interests he fronts treating us like we're just the "land of fruits and nuts," like we're disposable, a wacky economic and environmental accessory. They've never really picked a fight with us until the Trump administration gave them (and America's fascists) the courage to "come out."

And while they've threatened us over things like sanctuary cities (among many other things we hold dear), guess what? We've quietly built a war chest. With which, if provoked, we could give Ajit Pai the mother of all headaches.

Images: Noah Berger / Reuters (California fire fighters); Alex Wong via Getty Images (Ajit Pai)