GLENN: I've dawn broadcast for 40-some years. And I think this is the only time I've ever liked the FCC chairman. Ajit Pai. Welcome to the program, Ajit, how are you?
AJIT: Pretty good. Thank you for having me on. And for the kind words.
GLENN: Well, you didn't have a high bar. I do not like regulation at all. And that's what the FCC has -- has done. And -- and they have gotten stronger and stronger, and I worry about the internet. And then you come in. And you are now having a -- a real problem because people are -- you're going to -- you're going to repeal net neutrality. And people are coming out and -- I'm sorry for what your family went through. Picketing your house on Thanksgiving weekend.
AJIT: It's outrageous. And, you know, some of the online threats have been even more outrageous. And I think for anybody in public office. And any publicly-exposed position, you should not be threatened. Your family should not be threatened with violence or the like, simply because of the position you hold. And, you know, just simply steels my resolve to keep doing what I think is the right thing to do, and to also keep my family safe.
GLENN: So, Ajit, first of all, I'm sorry for this, but this is what's happening all over the country to anybody. When people disagree with somebody, we -- you know, we just -- all of a sudden, we think it's okay to harass them or terrorize them or offer death threats or whatever online.
Does the FCC have any place in regulating that kind of speech, online or anywhere else?
AJIT: We don't. Obviously, if it threatens violence or the like, we can work with law enforcement authorities. By and large, we have a hands-off rule. We don't regulate the content that goes over the internet.
What I will say is I have tried to speak out about the fact that we need to have a more civil fact-focused discourse in this country. It's one thing to disagree on policy. But if you go out there peddling misinformation, like democracy is threatened, the Internet is about to be broken, and here is the guy who is doing it. Here's his phone number. Here's where he lives. Here's his family. You shouldn't be surprised when people get alarmed and start to take outrageous actions. And so I would hope that we try to focus on the facts, as passionate as people are about this issue.
GLENN: So they are claiming that this is the end of democracy on the internet because you are going to repeal something that Obama put in, net neutrality.
AJIT: And that's the great irony about this. All we are proposing to do is to go back to President Clinton's light-touch, market-based framework that was place from 1996 to 2015. It's a regulatory system that has been proven to work. That's why we have the internet economy that's the envy of the world. And so all of these apocalyptic predictions are simply ridiculous, given the fact that we've lived under these exact same rules for two decades, and the world didn't end.
To the contrary, it thrived, especially for conservatives who have historically been marginalized when it comes to having the ability to express themselves.
STU: It's amazing that they would think that the era of 1996 to 2015 was a bad one for the internet. It changed our world completely.
AJIT: It's incredible. All these people suggesting that we were living in some digital dystopia before 2015, and that's why the government had to seize control of the internet, are completely misinterpreting history. And I think are object oblivious to the fact that these regulations do have costs. And going forward, we want to make sure that we have rules that accurately reflect the market. And promote free speech and expression online as well.
GLENN: So I talked to Ray Kurzweil who is the head of the Singularity University and consultant for Google and everybody else. And we talked about this at one point, kind of half-jokingly, about, you know, if Google can monitor all of the stuff and see what people are searching for, if somebody is searching for a better way to make a Google, why would Google ever allow them to do that? Are you concerned at all about the rise of these gigantic corporations that are bigger than some countries in their power, like Google. Google pretty much wrote the net neutrality bill.
AJIT: This is a growing concern, I think, in some halls in Washington and around the country. And part of the argument I made earlier this week is that you should practice what you preach. If you come to the FCC saying we need these heavy-handed regulations to be applied to one part of the internet economy, but, oh, don't regulate me, you should be consistent in how you operate your business. And that's part of the reason why I've said we need to have a level playing field. Everyone should play by the same rules, and the government certainly shouldn't be picking winners and losers and dispensing regulatory favors to those companies or parts of the industry that it favors at any given point in time.
GLENN: So how does net neutrality benefit a company like Google and hurt the small way?
AJIT: Well, I think the primary way is it's essentially saying, if you're an online content provider, you get rules of the road that will favor you. You essentially have the ability to pursue your business model without regulation. But the companies that run the networks that have to invest in those networks, aren't free to essentially build other networks and manage them appropriately.
And so that's pretty useful, to companies that are sending and receiving a lot of traffic on the internet. My simple point is, let's let the market decide how this works, instead of having the government micromanage it and pick winners and losers.
STU: Ajit, we're talking to Ajit Pai from the FCC.
And I know that a lot of -- even some conservatives that I talk to, see net neutrality as something that's positive because they -- they look at the way they use the internet. They stream Netflix. And Netflix is awesome. Everybody loves Netflix. It's great programming. And I don't want some company telling me that I can't get the speeds I need, so I get buffering and everything else. We need to stop that. What do you tell those people?
AJIT: I tell them two things. First of all, I understand where they're coming from. I love Netflix as well and stream a video all the time.
The problem is two-fold. Number one, the companies that are building the networks, have to be able to have a wide enough road, so to speak, to carry all of this bandwidth. And that road, expanding it, maintaining it, costs a lot of money.
And so the question is, should we allow commercial arrangements where the companies that are occupying a lot of space on the road will share in the cost much maintaining that road? And that's one of the things that the market has been able to traditionally sort out.
My point is that we shouldn't have the government dictating up front that, look, we're going to set the rules of the road, and prefer one part of the industry over the other.
GLENN: Can you explain, because people say by repealing this, it's going to make it harder for poor Americans to afford the internet, which is usually the opposite of what happens when government, you know, doesn't get involved. When government doesn't get involved, the prices go down because there's competition. When the government starts regulating, the prices usually start to go up. Can you help solve this?
AJIT: Absolutely. And this is one of the classic bits of misinformation out there.
These regulations, these heavy-handed regulations, on some of these network operators, have actually led them to reduce their investments in building these high-speed networks, especially in rural and low-income areas. Building these networks is hard. It costs a lot of money, takes a lot of time.
And what I've heard for myself -- firsthand, when I've gone to places like Spencer, Iowa, and Parsons, Kansas, and Reno, Nevada, is that some of these smaller companies, the very companies that are necessary to promote more competition and to reach rural and low-income consumers, they're the ones who are suffering under these regulations.
They've told us on the record that they're holding back on investment, or they can't even raise capital in the first place because companies say there's not going to be return on the investment because of these rules. So the argument I've made is that poorer consumers in particular are worse off because these regulations are standing in the way of them getting internet access or getting more competition.
STU: I think Ajit, there's a strong ideological argument to me that there's no human right, there's no constitutional right to Netflix. That is not what the government should be involved in when it comes to commerce.
But people -- you know, they obviously like it. They don't want these things to happen. And when you have a situation where a company could, in theory, strangle a particular site's bandwidth, people get panicked.
However, is it a real world thing? My understanding is it basically never happens. And if it does, the result after is actually a positive one.
GLENN: Exactly. And this is part of the reason why going back to your earlier question about Netflix, this is exactly the reason why we should let the Federal Trade Commission, not the FCC, figure out whether or not any of these arrangements are any competitive.
That phenomena you're just describing doesn't happen in the marketplace today, and if it did, one could imagine that it could be pro-competitive or anti-competitive.
My point is simply the FCC shouldn't preemptively say for all of the 4,000-sum Internet providers and for the rest of time, we know what the market is going to be, and we're going to forbid this or that business practice.
Let's let the anticompetitive authorities -- the competition authorities at the Federal Trade Commission, what could be anticompetitive on a case-by-case basis. That's a much better way of singling out the bad apples, I think.
GLENN: Talking to the chairman of the FCC, Ajit Pai, about net neutrality.
Ajit, do you look at all the regulations of FDR and see how the big -- for instance, big three automakers put automakers like, you know, Auburn out of business, when they started regulating. I mean, a lot of this stuff as we're growing into a new area of technology, a lot of this stuff we can learn from the past.
Are you examining any of that?
AJIT: Oh, absolutely. In fact, the net neutrality regulations that the previous FCC adopted in 2015, were directly modeled on the rules developed in the Roosevelt administration to handle Ma Bell, the telephone monopoly.
And the argument I've made is counterintuitive to a lot of people, but I think you might appreciate it, which is that these heavy-handed rules from the 1930s, that were designed for monopolies actually benefit some of the bigger companies.
They're the ones who have the lawyers and the accountants and the lobbyists to comply with these regulations. The smaller companies don't. And so ironically enough, these heavy-handed rules that were designed for a monopoly, will end up leading the marketplace toward a monopoly. And that's the last thing we want to see. We want to see more competition, more smaller providers entering the marketplace. And heavy-handed rules are not the way to get us there.
GLENN: Seeing that you are the chairman of the FCC and so much of freedom of speech in some ways, falls under your purview, are you concerned about the direction that, you know, our colleges or our universities, even our media and our politicians, seem to be moving in, where there doesn't seem to be any tolerance for different kinds of opinions.
AJIT: Absolutely. And I just gave a speech about this yesterday, in fact, where I said, there seems to be less of a tolerance for other points of view, and that social media, ironically enough, given the name, seems to be accentuating that problem.
And I'm very disturbed about the future of free speech and expression in this country. I think the harbinger is certainly on college campuses, where you see people not only not wanting to listen to other points of view, they actively want to shut down the expression of other parts of view.
And this is the generation -- these are the people that are going to have to carry the torch for this core constitutional freedom in the years to come. And I've long said that the First Amendment is great. It's nice to have that on the parchment of the Constitution, but it also requires a culture that is willing to defend this principle that we are a pluralistic nation, that other points of view, even if repugnant to you, should be allowed to be expressed. And I do worry that our culture is becoming less and less tolerant of other points of view. And eventually it will have a serious impact, if it's not corrected.
GLENN: Ajit Pai, thank you so much. I appreciate it and appreciate your time. Chairman of the FCC.