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这篇文章来自 wired.com。原始 url 是: https://www.wired.com/story/ajit-pai-man-who-killed-net-neutrality/

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在 3月, Ajit 排, 45 岁的椅子 联邦通信委员会, 带到互联网上--他快乐地居住和勉强管理的社区--向他最喜欢的电影致敬。"这不只是我的意见, 男人:20 年前的今天, #TheBigLebowski-电影史上最伟大的电影-被释放," 排在 Twitter 上写道。几十年来, 这家伙仍然遵守和电影真的把我们所有的人在一起。果然, 对排的欢快鸣叫的反应是统一的。

你已经脱离了你的元素 Ajit。
-@JohnsNotHere

是的, Ajit。不要再试图和人类交往了。
-@Douche_McGraw

我希望你喜欢独自看那部电影, 因为你有零朋友
-@aseriousmang

没人喜欢你这个笨蛋
-@chessrockwell_

在他的答复中累积了数以百计的侮辱。一些采取了不可思议的杰夫桥梁 gif 的形式, 其他模仿著名的线 勒博斯基 对话 框。("闭上你的臭嘴, Ajit。人们争论虚无主义是否更像电影中的绑架者或其公司的傀儡。

有线业务问题

竞争是僵硬的, 但排可能是 互联网上最受斥责的人.他被鄙视作为一个笨拙的乡巴佬, 试图证明他得到它, 和一个狡猾的恶棍, 以摧毁数字自由。(正如一个嘲讽的标题所说: "Ajit 不会休息, 直到他杀死了大勒博斯基。愤怒源于他的举动, 不久后被唐纳德·特朗普任命, 废除奥巴马时代 网络中立性 法规。他称他的政策是恢复互联网自由秩序, 这是他的批评家们认为的一种奥威尔式的接触, 他认为这是致命的威胁。

从最简单的角度来说, 网络中立原则阻止互联网服务提供者, 例如 Verizon康卡斯特, 从操纵网络流量, 以歧视为目的。捍卫者争辩说, 如果没有这些规则, 这些公司可能会发挥邪恶的权力。他们可能会减速 Netflix, 使电影像 大勒博斯基 unwatchable, 为了推动俘虏订阅者自己的属性, 前景变得更可信 电信像在 T 和 Verizon 扩展到内容中。他们可以向技术公司收取额外的费用, 以达到客户, 给那些支付的竞争优势。他们可能会饿死一个初创公司或扼杀异议的声音。对这些场景进行贴现, 称它们为 "假想的伤害和悲观的预言", 并指出在2015年奥巴马政府实施这些规定之前, 几乎没有证据表明这种行为。但是反对派从更广泛的反王牌抵抗中汲取能量, 但他的保证并没有说服他们。"如果你现在没有对网络中立性感到害怕," 激进组织为未来而战, 去年警告它的追随者, "你没有注意到。

排试图化解猜疑 , 提出自己作为一个和蔼可亲的书 , 下降显眼 参考 星球大战 还有漫画书英雄但互联网并没有购买它。最后可能, 后, 讽刺作家约翰奥利弗提供了一个 尖刻的独白 嘲笑他所谓的 "阿", 嘿, 我就像你们的角色一样-他专注于排的习惯, 从一个巨大的新奇咖啡杯在会议上喝酒, 并呼吁观众 上周晚上 为了支持网络中立性, FCC 的网站收到了对废止评论的猛烈抨击。大部分人只是对奥巴马的政策表示支持, 但有人在排位上提出了种族主义刻薄的言论, 他是印度移民的孩子, 甚至威胁到了他的生命。巨魔追踪了他妻子的医疗实践的评论页面, 并充斥着虐待性的一星级评论。也许是不明智的, 排一直试图反击互联网的自己的条件。他在社交媒体上与名人和小人物 jousted。他上演了自我意识特技, 就像出现在一个题为 "7件事情, 你仍然可以做网络中立后的互联网, "他摆出一只绝地武士的姿势, 和一群年轻的保守派一起跳舞," 哈莱姆震动 "。但视频却激起了互联网的愤怒。在 Twitter 上, 马克哈米尔-卢克. 天行者自己-嘲笑在排, 称他 "非常不配" 挥舞光剑。另一些人很快就认出了一个年轻女子在排旁跳舞, 他是一个右翼阴谋理论家, 他帮助传播了 "Pizzagate", 这是一个与希拉里和虐童团伙有联系的疯狂边缘的恶作剧丑闻。

在2017年11月的 FCC 会议上, Ajit 从他觉得很有趣的新奇杯子里喝了一杯, 他的评论家们喜欢恨。

通过格蒂图片

在 12月14日, 当那打情骂俏与极右派的奇观在世界各地压缩时, FCC 专员开会考虑了网络中立的命运。示威者聚集在工程处的总部外, 但在他和他的四名同事提交到一个荧光灯室时, 他显得很不平静。根据华盛顿的传统, FCC 的成员分为两个席位, 反对派的国会领导人选出了两个议席。他的两位共和党同事表示赞成废除, 而两位民主党人则提出了严厉的异议。主席有最后一句话。"互联网丰富了我自己的生活," 排说。"在过去的几天里, 我和我的父母和孩子们建立了一个 FaceTime 的电话, 下载了关于 blockchain 技术的有趣的播客, 我已经订购了一个玉米煎饼, 我已经管理了我季后赛的梦幻橄榄球队。你们中的许多人可能已经看到了-我已经推特了。互联网的惊人发展是什么原因?嗯, 这当然不是严厉的政府监管。

当排发言时, 房间后面有鬼鬼祟祟的骚动。一个笨重的武装警卫上前。"在安全的建议, 我们需要采取一个简短的休会," 排突然说, 然后站起身来, 匆匆出侧门。一个杂音通过观众: 炸弹威胁.

房间被疏散和搜查。最终, 大家都回来了, 排成一票。废除通过了, 3–2。排从他那备受诟病的咖啡杯中得到了满意的一口。

知道排的人发誓他的书形象是真实的。甚至他的对手也会承认, 他在王牌管理部门是个反常的人: 华盛顿比赛的熟练从业者。他的整个职业生涯都花在了首都, 获得了有影响力的赞助人 (麦康奈尔, 杰夫会议) 和内幕专家。正如哈罗德?菲尔德, 一位热心的评论家, 他为消费者宣传团体的公众知识工作, 感叹道: "为什么我的政策领域是一个真正知道他在做什么的人?

然而, 在排的聪明的背后, 技术官僚面具是一个改变的自我: 无情的保守理论家。从这个意义上说, 他是王牌的华盛顿的象征, 在那里所有的辩论, 甚至是那些枯燥的官僚作风, 都变得如此激烈, 以至于他们像生死问题一样战斗。他的能力使他能够迅速地解决奥巴马政府在 FCC 的遗留问题。但他的两极分化的政治保证, 互联网监管的斗争将继续肆虐。"我喜欢 Ajit 的个人, 虽然我不想在公共场所为他辩护," 另一位网络中立支持者承认。"但你不允许试图破坏互联网, 然后被互联网上的良好对待。的互联网 应该 恨他。

排可能是 华盛顿的一个生物, 但他仍然提出自己作为一个省级的心脏。他在堪萨斯帕森斯的小镇长大, 他的父母都是印度出生的医生, 在郡医院里行医。排与更广阔的世界的连接是收音机和他的家庭的卫星电视盘。今天, 许多农村社区都没有宽带上网, 这一问题经常公开发表。"我去过这个国家的许多城市, 我已经看到了人们是如何在错误的一边的数字鸿沟," 排告诉学生在他的高中在帕森斯去年9月。(他拒绝接受这篇文章的采访)。他向大会讲述了一个重要的时刻: 第一次在椭圆形办公室会晤王牌。"你走出去, 你看到了白宫的宏伟, 你想的事实, 你刚刚遇到了世界上最强大的人, 我不禁想到一个孩子, 我曾经知道30年前," 排说。"他是一个害羞的孩子, 浓密的胡子, 浓密的头发, 真的很尴尬与人交谈, 只是不知道发生了什么事。他, 坦率地说, 一个傻瓜。

不过, 派可辩称, dorkiness 是他离开帕森斯的通行证。他在高中时是个顶尖的辩手, 后来在哈佛。他作为民主党人来到剑桥, 但在一位教授费尔德斯坦的影响下, 他采纳了一个保守的自由市场哲学。在哈佛大学校园里, 种族政治也推迟了排便。在洛杉矶1992种族骚乱之后, 他的住宅邀请学生在墙上张贴他们的感情--一个字面上的, 砖块和迫击炮的。尽管他自己是少数派, 但他对自由身份政治持怀疑态度, 他写道, 在哈佛比赛时 "真正的问题" 是 "自愿隔离"。

"排是非常铸造他的许多与这一王牌革命。

1994年毕业于哈佛大学, 一年中出现了两个发展过程, 这将塑造他的职业生涯。那 10月, 网景发布了 第一个商业上成功的 web 浏览器, 为现代互联网开辟了道路。一个月后, 共和党赢得了国会的控制权。金里奇的 "共和革命" 精神在芝加哥大学很强势, 在那里, 派刚开始法学院。他属于一个声乐保守团体的埃德蒙. 伯克社会, 但也与桑斯坦, 一位才华横溢的行政法学学者进行了研究。(琪 Sohn-一位民主党和网络中立的倡导者在 FCC 工作的时候, 他告诉我, 经过一次有争议的投票, 她看到了与一个蔑视他对 Twitter 上的行政法知识的人的激烈争论。后来解释他的怒气, 他告诉她: "我在卡斯桑斯坦的行政法课上得了 A!

When Pai later moved to Washington, he joined a cohort of young conservatives who were impassioned about curtailing regulation. “Ajit was a type, as were a lot of his friends from Chicago, that would geek out about the differences in originalist philosophy of Scalia and Thomas,” says a friend from the time, Ketan Jhaveri. “And how to use that to get the government to do less.”

In 1998, Pai joined the Justice Department as a junior attorney in the antitrust division. He was assigned to a task force overseeing the telecommunications industry, which was going through a period of upheaval. Deregulation had contributed to a boom in dot-com stocks, huge investment in broadband, and a wave of telecom mergers. In 2000, Pai took part in an investigation that eventually blocked the proposed merger of WorldCom and Sprint, partly because it stood to give one company a dominant percentage of the internet’s “backbone” infrastructure.

Protesters, like these in Chicago, came out in force to support Obama-era net neutrality regulations. But the Republican-­majority FCC repealed the rules on December 14.

Scott Olson/Getty Images

The concern, then as now, was that the company that owned the pipes could also manipulate the flow of data. For practical purposes, some traffic management was essential, but the academics and engineers who pioneered the internet could already foresee how that control could lead to abuses such as blocking access to websites and “throttling”—or deliberately slowing—the connections of certain consumers. In 2002, a young law professor named Tim Wu wrote a short paper that he titled “A Proposal for Network Neutrality.” He framed the issue in modest terms, suggesting a standard that regulators could use to decide which methods of network management should be permitted (for the valid purpose of directing traffic) and which should be banned (for distorting the fundamental openness of the internet).

“I was sure it was a complete waste of time,” Wu recalls of that paper. But the phrase “net neutrality” caught on. Over time the concept has come to mean something far more sweeping, invoked to protect not just bits of data but free speech, personal privacy, innovation, and most every other public good associated with the internet. (Pai has called it “one of the more seductive marketing slogans that’s ever been attached to a public policy issue.”)

The world of telecommunications law is small, and Wu says he crossed paths with Pai around the time he came up with the concept of net neutrality. “Back in the day, he used to throw pretty good parties,” Wu said. Pai was active in the Federalist Society, the intellectual center of the conservative legal scene, but he was a bipartisan networker. He used to arrange large happy hour events, sending out mass email invitations that took the form of clever limericks. “Everyone knew his politics, but it was kind of like a joke,” says Jhaveri, who worked with Pai at the Justice Department and is now a tech entrepreneur. “A lot of our close friends were liberal and would give him a hard time about it, but all in good fun.”

After the Justice Department, Pai went to work at Verizon as a corporate attorney, but his foray into the private sector lasted just two years. He went on to Capitol Hill as an aide to two of the most conservative members of the Senate: first Sessions, from Alabama, and then Sam Brownback, who represented Pai’s home state of Kansas. Unlike his bosses, Pai was not a fire-breather on social issues, but he could see who was on the ascent in Washington during George W. Bush’s presidency. Finally, in 2007, Pai found his natural place at the FCC, taking a midlevel position in the general counsel’s office.

Established in 1934 to oversee radio airwaves and the Bell telephone monopoly, the FCC is one of those government institutions that conceals its importance behind an impenetrable veneer of boringness. The agency has historically had a dynamic of symbiosis—to put it politely—with the companies it oversees. FCC staffers deal mainly with lobbyists, and often become lobbyists, shuttling back and forth between K Street and the “8th Floor,” as the commissioners’ suites are known in Washington.

相关故事

As Pai joined the agency, activism was starting to stir around the issue of net neutrality. On a basic level, the problem concerned an ambiguity in the way the law dealt with internet service providers. The ones that started as phone companies were regulated under Title II of the Telecommunications Act and classified as “common carriers.” The cable companies, like Comcast and Time Warner Cable, were governed by the more permissive Title I, which covers “information services.” During the Bush administration—after much lobbying, litigation, and a Supreme Court decision—the FCC reclassified all ISPs under the looser designation of information services.

“That deal really was: You won’t be regulated like a phone company—which they hate, it’s very expensive—as long as you invest and serve the country,” says Michael Powell, Bush’s first FCC chair. “And what did the companies do? Over a decade, it was the fastest-deploying technology in the history of the world. They invested over a trillion dollars.” Of course, putting broadband in the less regulated category meant the FCC would have fewer powers to police anticompetitive practices. In 2004, Powell, a Republican, set forth voluntary principles. “It was consciously and purposely meant to be a shot across the bow of the ISP industry,” Powell says. He was telling them to behave or else the rules could return.

Pai appeared in the video “7 Things You Can Still Do on the Internet After Net Neutrality.”

Courtesy of YouTube

The video included a group of young conservatives, one of whom had helped spread the “Pizzagate” conspiracy. The internet pounced.

Courtesy of YouTube

Powell’s approach looked feeble to net neutrality advocates, who were backed by an emerging economic and political force: 硅谷. Companies like Google suspected—not unreasonably—that the internet service providers, which had invested all that capital in broadband, resented them for skating on their networks for free. The providers were rumored to be interested in charging tech companies for fast delivery, a practice known as “paid prioritization,” and if they started to exploit their middle­man position, it could potentially upend the economy of the internet. “I’m not saying that Google doesn’t act out of self-interest,” says Andrew McLaughlin, who helped start Google’s public policy operation in Washington. “But that self-interest was the sense that the long-term future of the internet is better off if it’s free and open.”

The new billionaires of Silicon Valley embraced Barack Obama when he ran for president in 2008, as did many of their employees like McLaughlin, who became a White House technology adviser. “The Democrats won the fight about who was going to hang ­out with the cool kids,” says Randy Milch, who was then general counsel at Verizon. “Then they carried the water for the cool kids. That’s how this became a partisan battle.”

Obama took up the cause of net neutrality, and his first FCC chairman, Julius Genachowski, cut a deal with the telecom companies to accept new regulations. This incensed congressional Republicans. If Obama favored net neutrality, congressional Republicans were opposed, and the formerly technocratic issue became a right-wing bugaboo. On Fox News, Glenn Beck drew crazed diagrams on his blackboard linking White House aides who favored net neutrality to Marxist academics and Mao. With encouragement from its allies on Capitol Hill, Verizon sued the FCC. This was much to the consternation of the rest of the industry, which considered Genachowski’s rules preferable to the hardcore alternative of common-carrier regulation.

In 2011, when a Republican seat opened up on the FCC, Mitch McConnell put Pai forward for the post. During his confirmation hearing, when Pai was asked about net neutrality, he said he’d keep an open mind as the courts considered Verizon’s lawsuit. Net neutrality advocate Harold Feld wrote an approving blog post, calling the nominee a “workhorse wonk.”

“Boy, was I wrong,” Feld says today.

After McConnell and the Republican leadership sent Pai to the commission in 2012, he revealed himself to be a fierce partisan. He reportedly shocked FCC staff with the militantly conservative rhetoric of his very first dissent, over a small-bore decision about the Tennis Channel. Pai went on to clash bitterly with Tom Wheeler, the Democrat who led the FCC during Obama’s later years. “Pai was running circles around him,” says Craig Aaron, president of the advocacy group Free Press, who watched Pai maneuver in league with Republicans on Capitol Hill. So when a federal court sided with Verizon in early 2014, requiring the FCC to find a new net neutrality approach, Pai was ready. “He went to war,” Aaron says.

The court decision appeared to leave the FCC only one route: classifying service providers under the restrictive rules that covered phone companies as common carriers. This was the outcome the ISPs had dreaded. In 2014, in a move Pai decried as White House meddling, Obama released a YouTube video endorsing this approach. Pai fought against what he called “President Obama’s plan to regulate the internet.” But the regulations passed, and in June 2016 a court upheld them. The issue looked settled. Then, in a turn no one saw coming, Trump won the presidential election.

Pai never explicitly identified himself with his party’s “never Trump” faction, but as an intellectual conservative and the son of immigrants, he has little sympathy for the president’s crass nativism, says a friend who talked to him throughout the 2016 campaign. “I would be very surprised if he voted for Trump,” this friend added. (An FCC spokesperson says Pai voted for Trump.) Still, when Trump won the election, Pai, like many Republicans in Washington, recalibrated his ideological agenda. “I knew once Trump met him and heard his life story, Trump was going to like him,” says Christopher Ruddy, CEO of Newsmax Media and a confidant of the president’s. It helped that Pai’s old boss Sessions was, at that time, one of Trump’s most trusted advisers. When offered the FCC chairship, Pai eagerly accepted the post.

When Trump won the election, Pai, like many Republicans in Washington, recalibrated his ideological agenda.

As the nation’s top telecommunications regulator, Pai’s unofficial duties include presiding over an annual Chairman’s Dinner, also known as the “telecom prom,” a Washington hotel gala filled with inside jokes about cable retransmission disputes and the like. In last year’s speech, Pai offered tips for his newly powerless Democratic colleagues (“Tip #1: Leak … frequently”) and performed a skit in which he poked fun at his own reputation as a corporate shill. It depicted a young Pai, circa 2003, conspiring with a real-life Verizon executive. “As you know, the FCC is captured by industry, but we think it’s not captured enough,” she said. “We want to brainwash and groom a Verizon puppet to install as FCC chair. Think Manchurian Candidate."

“That sounds awesome,” Pai replied enthusiastically. All that was missing was “a Republican who will be able to win the presidency in 2016 to appoint you FCC chairman,” the Verizon executive said. “If only somebody could give us a sign.” The twangy bass line of the Apprentice theme played, and Trump’s face filled the screen.

It is difficult to serve Trump without getting muddied in the mayhem of Trumpism—as Sessions and many others have discovered. Last fall, when Trump launched a Twitter attack on NBC, suggesting it might be “appropriate to challenge” its broadcast license for reporting “Fake News”—that is, news he didn’t like—the FCC chair kept quiet for days before meekly declaring that the FCC would “stand for the First Amendment.” Jessica Rosenworcel, a Democratic commissioner, says: “Maybe it was fear. But history won’t be kind to silence.”

For the most part, though, Pai has been left to run the FCC with little interference. Trump may love television, but he doesn’t care about the dry arcana of telecommunications regulation. At Pai’s sole Oval Office meeting, last March, Trump mainly wanted to talk about winning and their shared love of football, Pai told others, and gushed about the strategy his buddy, Patriots coach Bill Belichick, had employed to stage a Super Bowl comeback against the Falcons. Insofar as the White House has an opinion on net neutrality, it was set early by Steve Bannon, Trump’s political adviser, who declared that the “deconstruction of the administrative state” would be one of the administration’s core priorities.

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有线指南 Net Neutrality

“It was sort of knee-jerk in the White House,” says a Republican net neutrality supporter who discussed the issue with both Pai and Bannon last year. “Bannon said, ‘This is Obama’s rule and we should throw it out.’ ” Though Bannon has since been banished, the deregulatory campaign marches on. Beneath the fireworks display of angry tweets, Russia investigations, and sex and corruption scandals, Trump has been filling the judiciary and federal agencies with appointees determined to curtail bureaucratic power.

Even before he was named chair, Pai said he wanted to take a “weed whacker” to FCC regulations, and it was inevitable, given his and his party’s hostility to net neutrality, that he would reverse Obama’s common-carrier designation. But Pai’s order went much further. It allowed ISPs to do what they want with traffic, so long as they disclose it to customers in the fine print, delegating enforcement power to another agency entirely: the Federal Trade Commission. “I think most people thought he would take the rules and roll them back in a modest way,” Rosenworcel says. “This was radical.” Effectively, he has set the industry free of the FCC.

Pai has also made decisions favorable to other corporations, like Sinclair Broadcast Group, the owner of nearly 200 local television stations, which is vehemently supportive of Trump’s agenda. Among other things, the FCC eased ownership rules that limited Sinclair’s growth and is reviewing a controversial merger that would allow it to control another 42 stations, giving it a presence in 70 percent of the US. Progressive priorities, meanwhile, have been slashed. The FCC has moved to curtail Lifeline, a program that subsidizes phone and internet connections for poor people. If the cutbacks go through, some 8 million consumers could lose their Lifeline connections.

“Pai is very much casting his lot with this Trump revolution,” says Aaron of the advocacy group Free Press. Pai has responded to Free Press’ net neutrality criticisms by calling the group “spectacularly misnamed,” characterizing one of its founders as a radical socialist. He is even more unsparing behind closed doors. A former employee of a public interest group tells of being berated by Pai for an offending press release. “When you were talking with him privately, he used to seem genuinely interested in understanding,” says someone who has discussed net neutrality with Pai on several occasions. Now, however, his mind is closed to contrary thoughts. People who work at the FCC say that the agency is roiled by internal conflict. “It is incredibly partisan,” Democratic commissioner Mignon Clyburn told me in December. “I’ve been there for almost nine years, and I’ve never seen it to this degree.” In April, she resigned.

How to Speak Net Neutrality

Net neutrality is the principle that internet service providers (ISPs) should not speed up, slow down, or manipulate network traffic for discriminatory purposes. It needs its own glossary.

Blocking and Throttling

The crudest types of net neutrality violations. Blocking means exactly what it sounds like, while throttling refers to deliberately slowing the flow of data.

Paid Prioritization

Without net neutrality, ISPs could prioritize—that is, speed up—the flow of data from certain sites, giving an advantage to companies that pay tolls.

Title I and Title II

ISPs want to be covered under Title I of the Telecommunications Act, which is fairly lenient. But net neutrality advocates prefer Title II, which would treat ISPs as “common carriers” and allow tougher regulation.

Common Carrier

A legal concept that says certain entities—like railroads and phone companies—are so important that government needs to ensure they are open to everyone equally.

Gloria Tristani, a former Democratic FCC commissioner who now represents the National Hispanic Media Coalition, went to visit Pai last June, up on the 8th Floor. Sitting in armchairs in the chair’s spacious suite, Tristani tried to broach the subject of net neutrality and the Lifeline cutbacks, but Pai gave her a frosty reception. She says that she tried to be diplomatic, saying that, despite their party differences, she still believed Pai was motivated by his view of the public interest. “He gets up from his chair, goes to his desk, and comes back with a sheet of paper,” Tristani recalls. Pai thrust the paper at her. “He says something to the effect of, ‘You really dare say that to me?’ ” On the paper was a tweet she had written in favor of net neutrality. Posted beneath it was a picture of Tristani at a protest, pointing toward a “Save the Internet!” banner. It was next to a monstrous effigy meant to symbolize corporate money, from which Pai and Trump dangled on puppet strings. (An FCC spokesperson says Pai recalls a less confrontational encounter.)

Pai’s opponents make no apologies for demonizing him, given the stakes they say are involved. Without net neutrality, they predict, consumers could end up paying more money for less bandwidth, while tech companies that have come to depend on fast connections could be faced with a shakedown: Pay up or choke. The service providers scoff, saying they have no incentive to alienate their customers. But if Pai’s enemies and allies agree about one thing, it’s that his policy aims are about something larger than the speed at which packets of data traverse the cables and switches that make up the physical infrastructure of the internet. “I don’t think this fight is really fundamentally about net neutrality,” says Berin Szoka, founder of the libertarian advocacy group TechFreedom, who is well acquainted with Pai. “It’s really about people who, on the one hand, want to maximize the government’s authority over the internet, versus people who don’t trust the government and want to constrain its authority.”

A decade from now, it’s possible that the net neutrality argument will look like the first skirmish in a much larger conflict—one with shifting alliances and interests. For years, the service providers have been telling Silicon Valley to be careful about what they wished for. Earlier this year, Powell, now the top lobbyist for the cable industry, told me: “They are going to lose the war, because they are acclimating the world to regulation. They’re going to be next.” And sure enough, over the past few months of scandals over Russian bots and Facebook data-­harvesting, and the ensuing congressional hearings, the notion that the government might seek to expand its regulatory purview over Silicon Valley has started to seem conceivable. The tech companies are suddenly friendless in Washington, facing pressure not only from the left, which now sees them as no less evil than the ISPs, but also the right, which complains that its voices are being muffled by speech restrictions.

It is no coincidence that last year, as the FCC prepared to repeal net neutrality regulations, Silicon Valley’s response was notably muted. The conservative antiregulatory ideology might represent the industry’s best hope for an escape route for an industry that now fears government constraints. And besides, the big tech companies are no longer so sure that net neutrality is crucial to their business models. Even if service providers start charging tolls, the dominant internet companies will have negotiating power. Reed Hastings, the chief executive of Netflix, conceded at an industry conference last year that net neutrality is “not our primary battle at this point” because his company is now “big enough to get the deals we want.” The demise of the regulation could even have an upside for a now-established incumbent like Netflix, protecting its position from upstart competitors. “I think there is a growing consensus,” says analyst Craig Moffett, “that while it’s nice to be able to talk about how an issue like paid prioritization will strangle the next Google before it’s born, no one will benefit from strangling the next Google before it’s born more than Google.”

it is impossible to say whether Pai has killed net neutrality or whether, in the long term, it will return, either through a change of power in Washington, a court decision—appeals are ongoing—or even legislation. It is safe to predict, though, that there will be no peace between Pai and the internet. Over the past year, as he has been ­parodied and tormented by trolls, Pai has spent a lot of time in real life, on the road, driving rental cars through rural states and promising to bring broadband to the heartland. He has directed billions in funds to close the “digital divide” while appointing an advisory committee to identify regulations that slow down deployment. Even on his signature issue, though, there are problems. The committee is stacked to favor corporate interests, critics say, and Pai’s choice for its chair, the chief executive of an Alaska telecommunications company, created an embarrassing scandal. She resigned last year and was later arrested on federal fraud charges related to that telecom business.

Pai says his rural initiative is intended to help neglected consumers, but his barnstorming has led to widespread speculation that he has one eye on Kansas. “He’s probably going to run for Senate one day,” says Roslyn Layton, a policy expert who dealt with Pai as a member of Trump’s FCC transition team. “He wants to be known as a person from rural America who cares about rural America’s concerns.”

Still, it’s hard to imagine Pai running for office after his recent experience in the fray. He’s proven to be a formidable infighter but a maladroit public figure. Though he tries to maintain an indifferent air in public, people who know him say he has been rattled. Jerry Moran, a Republican senator from Kansas, held a small reception for Pai at a Washington townhouse last spring. The attendees were old friends and colleagues, and Pai became emotional. “He broke down,” recalls Wayne Gilmore, an optometrist who owns a radio station in Parsons. “His family was already getting death threats. It was real.”

“He broke down. His family was already getting death threats. It was real.”

With the darkness, though, comes a bright side: Pai is now viewed as a hero by conservatives. One Friday this past February, Pai went to a convention center outside Washington to deliver a speech to CPAC, an important annual gathering for members of the conservative movement. Out in the corridor, many slim-suited young deplorables with fashy haircuts were milling about, along with a woman costumed as Hillary Clinton in prison stripes. Pai was in the unenviable position of following Trump, who had delivered a rambling stem-winder in which he joked about his hair, maligned the ill John McCain, and talked at length about arming teachers, his response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, the week before. By the time Pai took the stage for his segment, which was titled “American Pai: The Courageous Chairman of the FCC,” the schedule was running around an hour behind.

Pai walked onstage with Dan Schneider, one of the conference organizers. “Ajit Pai, as you probably already know, saved the internet,” Schneider said, by way of introduction, as Pai guffawed appreciatively. “And he spent a lot of hours preparing a wonderful speech that he’s not going to deliver now.”

“OK?” said Pai, who was carrying a copy of the speech in his inside coat pocket.

“As soon as President Trump came into office, President Trump asked Ajit Pai to liberate the internet and give it back to you,” Schneider went on. “Ajit Pai is the most courageous, heroic person that I know. He has received countless death threats. His property has been invaded by the George Soros crowd. He has a family, and his family has been abused.” Then Schneider sprung a surprise. He brought an official from the National Rifle Association onstage. She announced that the NRA, a conference sponsor, was giving Pai an award. “We cannot bring it onstage,” she said. “It’s a Kentucky handmade long gun.”

Pai looked dumbfounded. It later emerged that FCC staffers backstage had prevented the NRA from bringing out the “musket” for fear of violating ethics regulations—and also, no doubt, wanting to avoid the spectacle of the enemy of net neutrality brandishing a firearm, the week after a deadly school shooting that had ignited massive protests. Friends later said that Pai was enraged that his speech on internet freedom was preempted, but he smiled and gave awkward thanks. Afterward he was ushered downstage for a panel discussion. “Wow,” he said, unable to hide his befuddlement. Pai nonetheless managed to hit some of his usual notes, quoting Gandalf the Grey and praising his own decision to take on the interests favoring net neutrality. “Some people urged me to go for sacrifice bunts and singles,” he said. “But I don’t play small ball.”

Pai had been blocked and throttled, but he was still winning.


Andrew Rice (@riceid) last wrote for WIRED about architect Bjarke Ingels.

This article appears in the June issue. 立即订阅.

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