President Donald Trump has named Ajit Pai as chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, and advocates of the open internet are worried.
That’s mostly because Pai is a critic of the 2015 Open Internet Order, which classifies the internet as a public utility — like electricity or running water — and prevents internet service providers from giving certain content preferential treatment. There’s a lot to it, but broadly speaking, it keeps an ISP from explicitly slowing down certain sites or asking customers to pay extra fees to access them.
And as this chart from Statista shows, those concerns are relevant today. Large ISPs like Comcast, AT&T, and Verizon are increasingly snapping up (or trying to snap up) content companies. If those ISPs are able to play favourites, to put it simply, they’d have financial incentive to make their own services more convenient to access — effectively splintering the internet into different silos, and potentially putting any content company not owned by an internet provider at a disadvantage.
To be clear: There are a lot of hypotheticals to this, and any change to the current rules would be a lengthy, vocal process. But with an industry-friendly chairman at the head of the FCC, those worries aren’t totally unfounded.